Meditation from May 15 – the languages of guns and love

An American Language
May 15, 2016
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2016

Lectionary Reading
Acts 2:1-21 (Presented as a reading from Eva Klink)
When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs– in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

`In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ ”
Dynamism makes right
Elisabeth Zerofsky wrote last week in The New Yorker
about a reading of the writings of the French philosopher
Albert Camus.

“What he was saying is that politics as we know it needs to take a secondary position,”
The reader said about Camus. He added that he admired the writer’s independence in standing up to both the left and the right: “He was fearless.” Camus felt that an absence of values had led Europe to disaster, that societies had decided that a leader was right merely because he’d succeeded.

There’s the thing, I think: “…societies had decided that a leader was right merely because he’d succeeded.”
“An absence of values had led Europe to disaster.”
(The New Yorker, May 16, 2016, http://nyer.cm/gMhmTWw)

This sort of “strong man” politics
has unfortunately too often been
encouraged by the Christian faith

Jesus becomes a vacant stand-in
for whatever strength or order or dominance
people want to establish.
“In the name of the Lord.”

And so in our text, Peter’s meditation ends with the phrase:
“Calls on the name of the Lord”

It’s hard for us to not hear it as
yet another “strong man” declaration.

But what if it is not an invitation to become more powerful
where others are less powerful,
or to dazzle the world with words and miracles?

My sense is that the context of
“call on the name of the Lord”
is not to create a new and better religion
that excludes or replaces.

Rather, it is a declaration for healing and repair.
All the people, in the work of the Holy Spirit,
could understand what was being said.

Shared humanity is recovered, repaired, brings joy.
It is as if, today, people stopped driving around
in competition on the road
and began to use their cars as a way
to share the road and to care for each other.

Shared humanity, shared life pathways,
shared speech, being alert to each other,
being attentive.

That is the nature of the wonders of Pentecost,
and it is the context for that phrase
“all who call upon the name of the Lord”

It is not a battle cry to win,
but rather an invitation to transform
for the sake of love.


That is the language of love
that is spoken at Pentecost.
Not a language of fear, dominance, power-mongering.

This last week, I’ve been thinking about
another language, a dominant language
in American culture,
a language of the strong man.

No politician seems to be able to speak another language.
It is the language of guns.

Now what I’m going to say
is not said to be derisive – too much of that already.

I am going to address ridiculousness,
but it is the ridiculousness of the gun-impulse
not the ridiculousness of the people
for one simple reason:
they are God’s children.
We all are.

We are all in this together,
our fates are linked,
we need each other for shared dignity.

Also, I’m not seeking to be right where others are wrong;
I don’t want to be more right.
I want to take action that matters for human lives and dignity.
To walk forward toward a new conversation
and then new social arrangements.
Sitting shiva
Last week we had the privilege
of visiting a Jewish family as they were
sitting shiva for the young son who had died.

Sitting shiva involves staying in your home
without leaving, for seven days,
cooking no food, wearing torn clothes,
simply sitting and visiting.

So when we arrived, the grieving father and mother
were in their living, just sitting and talking,
the mother on the floor with a friend,
the father in a nearby chair.

Marilyn had known the boy from her work,
so when she came into the room,
they immediately greeted her with great joy.

Then they wanted to know any stories
she might have about their son.

It was a warm ritual.
It gave time for grief to unfold for awhile,
in all the different ways that grief will show up.

It felt organic, significant, and most of all
it felt deeply right, it rang true
to a deep language of love, and loss, and love.

On our way home, we were driving down Arapahoe Road.
I noticed this on the north side:
“Colorado’s biggest gun-safe store.”

Now I suppose that’s good,
if you have them, keep them locked up.
And if you have them for hunting,
then as far as I’m concerned, good enough.

But I wondered, with all the rhetoric about
having guns to protect against the government,
and our Colorado “Make my day” law,
whether a lot of guns in the safe
might be intended to kill people.

As I pondered this, almost immediately
I saw a large sign for an Active Shooter Response conference.

There have, of course, been horrific and tragic shootings
in our area: Columbine, Aurora Theater.
These are now short-hand in the media.

But this is not Syria or Somalia or Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan.
We have overwhelming safety and quiet
punctuated by shootings.

Now death is death, and if you lost someone
in one of those shootings, you have lost the world.
And your grief is total and never to be minimized.

What I am talking about is how we speak
to each other in our intentions and practices.
How we speak to each other about guns.

What struck me, as we had left that warm shiva ritual,
and come out on Arapahoe Road,
is that shiva was one ritual,
and guns were another.

Shiva was one ritual language
and guns were another.

There we were driving down a massively safe road,
where all we do all day long is drive and shop.

And prominent in the scenario was having
and using guns for the sake of safety.
Safety layered on safety layered on safety.

Guns feel good to us in our culture.
They feel like the right language for safety.

I think it is highly unlikely that a dark theater
full of guns would have resulted in fewer deaths.
Or more guns being walked around on the streets.

But in our culture, that’s the intuition,
that’s the sense.

Guns are ritual objects of safety
(Unless you’re really vulnerable out in the wilderness
with bears and panthers.
Then they may be real tools of safety.)

Again, I’m not talking about hunting.
We have a friend from south-western Colorado,
who liked to hunt with his 80-something father.
And he was a gourmet cook.
He once made use elk stew
from elk that he shot. It was very good.

Also, I’m not talking about using guns to wound or incapacitate,
in order to stop harm from happening.

John Howard Yoder writes an exchange
about this in his little book What would you do if:

Draft board: would you shoot to protect your family?
Yoder: am I a good shot?
Draft board: okay, yes.
Yoder: then I’d shot the gun out of the intruder’s hands.

Just to be abundantly clear,
what I’m talking about is owning guns
with the possibility and intent and design to kill people.
The ritual language of guns
Guns are the ritual object of safety.
We pray: “praise the Lord and pass the ammunition”
in the old WWII prayer
from the song by Frank Loesser,
composed in the wake of Pearl Harbor.

We speak in reverential tones about
open carry,
the second amendment,
the American way of life.

There is an American coolness about it:
Dirty Harry with his 44 magnum:
“Do you feel lucky punk; well do ya?”

Dirty Harry is also where the phrase “Make my day” came from.
As if to say: “Go ahead and do something
so that I can shoot you. It will make my day.”

It’s how we imagine it.
Actually killing someone has often
awakened other feelings in people,
feelings of enormity and remorse.

With our gun rituals, our gun language,
we get your hearts oriented to killing,
to the possibility of it, the feel for it,
the anticipation of it

It grants a feeling of power, and of safety.
Most people never or rarely use their guns
against another person.
Owning them is instead a ritual of safety.

It is to speak the particularly American
language of safety.

It is as if we are saying:
“In the name of the lock, and the stock, and the barrel”
The ritual language of love
We have another ritual language:
it is the the language of bread and wine,
that speaks words of eternal love.

In this ritual language
we get our hearts oriented to love,
to the possibility of it,
the feel for it, the anticipation of it.

I believe that those who would speak
the language of Pentecost,
that language of the healing of the nations,
the miracle of new communication and connection

will choose love, not guns
we will choose the Spirit of Christ,
not the dazzling power of a strong man,

For our safety, our future, and our way of life.
we will choose love.

So be it.

To be one
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Calendar date
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2016

Lectionary Reading

Acts 16:16-34
With Paul and Silas, we came to Philippi in Macedonia, a Roman colony, and, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

John 17:20-26
Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then he said. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
In the hole together
A story from the TV series, the West Wing:
A man was walking down a street and fella into a hole.
It was was deep with smooth sides, so he couldn’t get out.
A doctor came by.
The man called up, doctor, can you help me out?
The doctor wrote a prescription and threw it down and walked on.
Then a priest walked by.
The man called up, Father, can you help me?
The priest wrote a prayer on a piece of paper, threw it down, and walked on.
Then a friend walked by. The man called up to him, and the friend stopped and then jumped into the hole.
The man asked, why did you do that? Now we’re both stuck down here.
But the friend said, We’re okay. I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.

We read the passage from John.
It expands and opens up the earlier wonderful note from John 15:15:
I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

Our Bible passages for today, on the longish side, with a lot in them, can nevertheless be summarized as a sequence of people being set free from shame and oppression and who may then become friends.

No longer servants but friends.

So the slave girl who is possessed by a fortune telling spirit, surely a spirit that is a distortion of her true self, a way that she has internalized her oppression. She is freed. People couldn’t make money off of her diminishment anymore.

Then, as is usually the case, no good deed goes unpunished. Paul and Silas who acted on her behalf are now humiliated. Stripped of their clothes. Their shame is complete which we see in how the crowd joined in attacking them. Shame is separation from society, breach of relationship. They are shamed. They are put in the place of separation, incarceration, the jail.

But they begin to find their voices there. They sing. As they sing, as often happens, the universe shifted. Things were shaken open. They must have been singing the blues, singing a song of liberty, “I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom.”

But that’s not all, as saying goes. Now it is the turn of the jailer. His shame is to be locked into a system of layered oppression, in which he will be killed by his bosses if he loses any prisoners. But although all has been shaken and opened, there is nothing lost. Nothing is ever lost in God’s economy. All heads are counted, all hairs are numbered. And now the jailer also steps into freedom and dignity. He becomes part of the new community of friends, no longer slaves, no longer servants, but those who are one in the Spirit.

In social analysis these days, one word used frequently is “intersectionality.” It refers to the intersection of all our privileges and oppressions, and how this is a complex to web. I may be a white male but no good at team sports. You may be a black remain but a professor. I may be gay and white. You may be lesbian and Hispanic. Transgendered folks add another layer. Have you been bullied? Did you do bullying? Are you first generation something? 7th generation something? All are in the mix. Intersectionality.

The word for today is that in our intersectionality, whatever it may be, we are invited and encouraged to find our way toward friendship. It may take some shaking of prison walls. We find ourselves possessed and making money for somebody else. We may feel stripped naked in the town square with all the crowd joining in the attack. And yet, for us, there is liberation. There is another step to take, a step toward friendship.

In the Anam Cara, John O’Donohue writes:
“Sadly, it is often loss that awakens presence…. It is wise to pray for the grace of recognition. Inspired by awareness, you may then discover beside you the anam ċara of whom your longing has always dreamed.” P15

You may then discover beside you, in the hole with you, the soul of whom your longing has always dreamed. Sometimes we discover that the person right beside us exactly that soul friend. We just didn’t see it before.
Blues mode of faith and spiritual action
Another hour way to talk about this is to speak of the blues mode getting together.
First, get on the ground. Get in the hole together.
Be real.
In the blues mode:
Not a person at 30,000 feet
But ready to jump in the hole.
This takes some courage. Even if I know the way out.
To jump in the hole means I will let the other person change my life,
Even if only for a little while.
They will matter to me, get into my schedule, change my next steps, change what I am paying attention to.
This is what it means, in the blues, to “get down.”
Get down into the hole.
Honor the humanity of others, even when they are hurting, or when the are different, or unattractive.

It is interesting that the tradition is that Jesus was not appealing to see.
In what are sometimes called the suffering servant passages – Isaiah 52 & 53 – the prophet Isaiah begins:
See, my servant shall prosper…. 52:13

….he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account. 53:2,3

This servant is variously identified in Jewish tradition as the nation of the Israelites as a whole (Isaiah 49), or as one of the kings or prophets who suffered, or Moses, or perhaps an unnamed person.

Luke, writing in the book of Acts, identifies the servant with Jesus. Acts 8:32-35

Toward the end of the passage, the prophet circles back to the affirmation:
Out of his anguish he shall see light…. 53:11

In any case, what we have is a sense of one who jumps in the hole with us, one who is not above our situation. And the implication is that we will go and do the same – that we will “get down” with others in the blues mode of faith and spiritual action.

I remember my own sense of flying in my ego plane
my career plane, becoming the good and strong pastor
the one who speaks and acts

But more than this, I needed to love
to love in a finer way – there was love before –
but to love in a way that was more on the ground
more willing to get down into holes with others
instead of staying cool on the street.

It’s the true music of all the world, the music of suffering and joy – blues – the American chant,
is like heart music around the world

Like the vibrations of monks on the edge of a mountain, voices surging from depths gathered around a brass bowl that sings

Like call and response in South African harmony:
Kulumani, Kulumani sizwe
Singenze njani
Baya jabula abasi thanda yo

Loosely translated as:
We would like to announce to the entire nation that we are the best at singing in this style.”!
(Read more at http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/omeoflittlefaith/page/95/#qgiUQrRzMjPvQHgU.99)

Right on. Sing it.

Sing it with sitar in India, or balalaika in Russia, or dobro, or dulcimer in the American mountains and south, pulling five tone songs from the memories of Ireland and Wales.

Sing it with flute in the desert – nothing more than a piece of wood shaped and then winded with human breath, breath that becomes music

And so the human cry, the voice, the generational wailing sent up into the night sky, I am real, I hurt, may be be made glad.

That is the blues mode of faith and spirituality.
In some form, that’s what Paul and Silas were singing in jail,
what the slave girl heard, what the jailer joined.
Molly Crabapple
One more story.
The biblical stories are very male. As is the West Wing story.
So let’s quickly sound the story of Molly Crabapple.
That’s the pen name of a young woman who gets down
into the holes with people around the world.
The Smithsonian article notes that she is like
Nellie Bly who exposed the horrors of mental institutions
Ida Tarbell, who took on the monopoly of Standard Oil
Jane Addams, who shone a light on the misery of immigrants.
(Smithsonian April 2016, pp35ff)

Molly Crabapple is 32 and has already braved the hell of ISIS-plagued territory to report on refugees.
She has dressed in gritty clothes to go undercover to record the shocking conditions of immigrant labor camps.
She has dressed up to slip through security at a Dubai press conference to confront Donald Trump about low wages of workers building one of his buildings.
She has railed against victimization of sex workers.
She has descended into one of the worst solitary confinement holes – literally what they are called – in Pennsylvania.

From this, she draws and paints artwork of stunning beauty and compelling power.

She is a friend to those who need a friend.
Anam Cara.

A hidden grace
One more thing.
There is a hidden grace in the story of the hole
The friend who jumps in, does not jump into a hole
that he doesn’t know.

He knows the way out!
In this story, at least, the friend knows the way out.

We surely will get into holes that we don’t know.
But here, the idea is that we may offer not what we don’t know
but what we know.

Parker Palmer calls this giving what we have
instead of giving what we don’t have.
That is a form of authenticity.
It is also the grand road to true community.

And this takes courage. To offer what we have.
Rather than to hold it back, rather than to stay on schedule,
and remain in my comfort zone,
up on the street, above the hole.

I know that hole. Another person is in it.
Will I take the step of courage to enter the hole with them,
and so to walk with another person in their time of need?
Not with what I don’t know. But with what I do.

In all this, there is so much grace.
Friendship. To be one.

Healing leaves
Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 1, 2016
Vernon K. Rempel
For Heritage United Methodist Church & Beloved Community
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

In the spirit the angel carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day– and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
May Day!
Our new church plant, our little congregation,
is sponsoring a couple who are both Mennonite pastors
from Mexico City.

They are very cold! Snow on May 1!
I jokingly tell them: Spring is just a promise.

But their presence with us is a promise fulfilled.
To share between our cultures,
to struggle toward each other in
limited Spanish and English

And to find love, nevertheless,
to find deeply shared work, nevertheless,
is an expression of the river of life.

There is snow now, but in God’s promise of love,
Spring will come.

Our souls lean toward the future of God
To the warm wind that blows from the future of God.
In whom the words to come are always love and joy.

The river of life!
In our ancient text for today,
John had wild visions on an island
and wrote them down in what we call
the book of Revelation.

Today’s vision features a river of life
that flows through the heart of the city.
Not the mean streets of film noir
or a gritty crime novel.

“The rain fell like dead bullets” – Scott Nicholson
Film noir is fun to watch.
But it is not fun to live.

It feels real. Life is hard,
but a decent man pushes forward anyway.

But the surprise of the gospel of Jesus Christ
is to declare love and life in the middle
of the gritty streets,
in the middle of the hard-bitten city,

Flows a river
and on its banks grow a variety of tree
called the “tree of life.”
It produces a lot of fruit – 12 kinds!

And it has the most amazing leaves:
the leaves are for the healing of the nations.

God’s warm wind blowing in from the future.
Love, life itself, seen growing
in the heart of the city.

Not rain falling like dead bullets.
But water flowing like life.
Mission, not survival
It is what Walter Brueggemann calls
the “thick text” of the Bible,
rather than the “thin texts” of dominant culture.

One person has said, it is the power of love,
rather than the love of power.
(Wilmer Villacorta in a yet to be published manuscript)

What do you do if you want to do something different?
What do you do when you want a thick text,
instead of the thin text of business as usual,
business as we often fall into it?

Star Trek
(“Battle for the soul of Star Trek” Smithsonian, May 2016, pp 50-61)

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek,
wanted to do something different.

He had been a police speech writer for the LAPD
in the 1940s,
then he wrote for a Western:
“Have gun, will travel.”

But he says:
“I was tired of writing for shows where there was always a shoot-out in the last act and somebody was killed. ‘Star Trek’ was formulated to change that.”

He wanted to write something better,
but was chafing at the commercial censorship on TV.

So, as he says:
“It seemed to me that perhaps if I wanted to talk about sex, religion, politics, make some comments against Vietnam, and so on, that if I had similar situations involving these subjects happening on other planets to little green people, indeed it might be get by, and it did.” (p53)
Not just cut to the verities and certainties of the old ways.
But to hold new and powerful questions
and examine them and seek life together –
to go where no man has gone before!

Or has it was changed in the Next Generation
to go where no one had gone before.

To deliberately hold tension and uncertainty.
What does it mean to be an organizations
what does it mean to be a church
a movement in the Spirit of Christ,

that is dedicated to love
rather than to survival
dedicated to mission rather than to success.

That’s an alternative story to the usual story.
That’s a thick Bible-style text
rather than the success-addicted culture text.

One of the stories that has helped me greatly
with my new church plant,
which I started with no funding and no people
a lot of social support, but our conference
is small and doesn’t have grand funding
for church plants –

When I started, I found a story about living
deliberately with uncertainty for the sake of mission.

James Nelson Gingerich started the
Maple City health care center in Goshen Indiana
in the 1970s.

When he first proposed the idea,
on other doctor immediately said
“no margin, no mission.”

Meaning that if you don’t have funding
you won’t have a mission.

Gingerich found himself saying back instead
“No mission, no mission”

In other words, it’s all about the mission.
Others may have said this,
but he actually carried it out.

They set up a health care center to provide
medical care for poor people
and people who could pay.

And they determined that they would not
restrict the offering of care in order
to keep a margin of funding for their organization.

They were going to seek to provide care no matter what.
Even if there wasn’t funding for health care for the poor.
And that’s what they did.

He went so far as to say that if
anyone ever mentioned organizational survival
in their board meetings

He would flag it and say,
let’s talk about what we believe we are called to do,
not about how we’re going to survive.

And here’s something most amazing.
In our faith conversations,
in our baptism,
we talk about “dying and rising with Christ”.

Gingerich took that as the theology of their organization.
As Paul put it, if we live, it is Christ
if we die, it is Christ.
But all is in Christ.

He said they decided as an organization,
that if they had funding and would live,
that was good,

And if they didn’t and would die, that was good too.
But they were always going to focus on mission –
to care for the poor.

He says that of course they worked to get money.
And they kept good books.
This wasn’t make-believe budgeting.

But they refused to compromise the call of their mission
just because it looked like they couldn’t afford it.
The future wasn’t up to them.
That was up to God.

And whether they survived or not was secondary
to whether or not they were doing what
God had called them to do.

An amazing story!
A story of the river of life!
(From the book Widening the Circle by Joanna Shenk)
Shelter becomes a revival.
The river of life
One other story that heard recently
from the author Shane Claiborne,
who has a book Jesus for president.

In Philadelphia, where he lives,
there was a Pentecostal church
that wanted to set up a shelter for the homeless.

But people complained.
The city refused to let them have the zoning to do it.

So they gathered together and they began to pray about it.
Claiborne says – you better watch out when Pentecostals
get together to pray. Things happen!

So, presently, God gave them a new vision.
They went back to the city and the said,
okay, we understand you do not want us
to set up a shelter.

Fair enough. We will respect that.
No permanent arrangement.

But what we’re going to do instead
is have a revival.
We Pentecostals like revivals.

And here’s the thing,
anyone can come to the revival.
And it’s going to go on all day, all week long
for as long as it seems good to God.

And that’s what they did,
they had a revival,
everyone was invited, including the homeless.

They had preaching, prayer, singing, food,
all the usual revival stuff.

And after a few hours of this in the evening,
the pastor said, okay, that ends this part of our revival.
Now we’re going to have contemplative prayer
in your rooms for the next 8 hours or so.
Go with God.

So they created a place for the homeless.
And probably did some spiritual reviving.
And they got lots of good publicity,
and something possibly better
than a shelter happened.

What happens if we give ourselves to God’s mission,
rather than fretting about our survival.
What if we want to tell a finer story,

a story of the river of life,
rather than the usual thin stories of trying for success?

Then, as Isaiah 58 says
we will see our light break forth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Three souls

Attend to three souls, perhaps:

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

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

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

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

This grand soul of the universe
this heart of creation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The calendar began with Caesar’s birthday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is the outer. There is also the inner.

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

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

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

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

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

Shared thoughts

Sing There is a balm in Gilead

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

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

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

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

Shared thoughts

Sing There is a balm in Gilead

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

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

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

Shared thoughts

Sing There is a balm in Gilead

Additional reading: The Seven Of Pentacles
Marge Piercy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shared thoughts

Sing There is a balm in Gilead

Anger is compassion

Easter 3

April 10, 2016

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2016
Lectionary Reading

Acts 9:1-6

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

Mark 3.5

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

Saul was breathing threats and murder.

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

high on his own sense of rightness and righteousness,

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

quite willing to see people put away,

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

Anger is on your side.

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

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

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

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

It may be through sheer distraction,

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

We become dissociated.

This other voice comes from our mouth,

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

This often happens, and we say the word

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

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

and now there’s a story that will

come back to haunt us on the campaign trail,

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

But what if we are ourselves with anger?

What if there is a natural and clear expression

of anger that is ourselves,

that expression in which we are not

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

a distorted eruption, but rather a mindful

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

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

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

–David Whyte


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

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


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

for the sake of our loved ones,

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

but our friend, and then they are hassled by

the nexus of business, law-enforcement,

and public disconnection,

it feels very toxic.

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

But in a deep longing to make better community ourselves

with the vulnerable folks,

and to struggle energetically to change the system

so that all may find dignity.

when we are ourselves in anger,

instead of being beside ourselves in anger,

it is because of – to quote David Whyte –

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

It is not just what we are annoyed with,

or offended by.
This are all other layers,

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

and the real golden flow of anger,

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

so we don’t even quite remember what

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

is shopping or alcohol or food

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

which we deeply love in our heart of hearts,

with our body-selves,

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

a compassion that flows with bright warmth

that let’s us engage and address the world

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

but righteousness as that great good thing

that means life for everybody,

“peace on earth, good will toward all”

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

When have you been breathing threats and murder?

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

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

as my reflection about David Whyte’s paragraph.

I didn’t know exactly what I was painting,

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

The steel strength of anger is the dark line

that spirals out.

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

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

Saul is on the road to Damascus when

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

but now the light dawns,

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

And after this, Saul becomes Paul.

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

and executing bad people,

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

can also come to themselves,

so that there is more of that thing

where people are actually being themselves

with each other,

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

among women and men.

He lays the groundwork for sexual and racial

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

is going to be breaking through boundaries

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

Working for the healing of young men

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

that care nothing for the poor,

and loving the poor themselves,

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

he did not give up anger.

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

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

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

Paul reserves some real ferocity for religious leaders

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

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

and that fiery flow is transformed

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

Easter voiceEaster Sunday

March 27, 2016

For Beloved Community and Columbine UU combined service

Vernon K. Rempel, 2016
Lectionary Reading

Luke 24:1-12

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


 How lovely the quiet morning,

 when the purple and pink sky

  hovers over the foothills,

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

The hills light up,

 and all the world bears silent witness

  to the true glory that always seeks after us

   in every moment of our lives.

    How lovely the quiet morning.

But silence can be most difficult as well.

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

  the stopping of “la carrera de mi vida”

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

 Not silence.
My hopes and dreams, longings,

 projects, things established and counted upon,

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

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

 The only sound that remains is whatever sound

  the universe makes as it whirls and turns

   in its infinities.
Silence the door to uncertainty.

 Silence the teacher of the deepest soul.

  Silence that is that invitation in the curious envelope;

   it often lies unopened 

    at the bottom of the stack.


The speaking women

In the story of resurrection

 in the gospel of Luke,

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

 when the fragrance of the flowers fills the air, 

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

 shooting bands of red and gold into the sky, 

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

 for the grave that is silent,

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

 Even the dew on the hems of their dresses

  seems to make a sound,

   for the silence is so great,

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

 There is no expectation of speech.


But then, something subterranean shifts on its foundations.

 A hidden freshness, an inkling of movement

  in the heart of things.


An often hidden, but very natural,

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

 who knows how – like light,

  how does this work anyway?

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

 The silence holds them….

  And then their hearts break open;

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

 activity comes to life.


Those who have been made silent

 find their voice,

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

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

  Now the flowers’ fragrance

   hits their olfactory nerves

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

 These women who are barely named in the stories.

  Always following the “also…” of the story

   or the “and…” of the story.

Now they begin the action, the declarations.

 Often the voice of those on the margins

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

 The person without a home has an idea

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

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

 showers away the grit of the road,

  and says, “Here we will make our community.

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

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

 writes about her hero Shug,

  the woman who is beaten down,

   who becomes sick unto death.
But then, 

 An often hidden, but very natural,

  activity comes to life.

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

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

 From the grave, the women run.

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

   They belted it out.
The wisdom and courage

 that had arisen from the silence.

  Now it was time for belting the tunes of life,

   singing out with the whole heart,

    not some proper bound-up song,

     but rather the cadences of release.

From the silent margins

 comes a voice, a song,

  An often hidden, but very natural,

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

 But it can be just the place.

  Well now, there are the women shouting.

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

 and no one wants to miss any of that.

  As Alice Walker writes:

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


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