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Archive for July, 2015

Life and Death
Common time
July 19, 2015
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Bible Reading and associated readings:
I Corinthians 15:20-27 excerpts
“For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien The Fellowship of the Ring
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Good morning to you on this day Christians worship, in celebration and memory of the resurrection of Jesus, who by great tradition, was raised from death on the 3rd day – Sunday morning, after being executed by political authorities collaborating with religious leaders, on the previous Friday.

In the beginning, this world and all that was in it, was created good. Then distortion and harm and abuse entered in. The shorthand word for this is “Adam” in Paul’s language. So by Adam came death.

Also in Paul, “Christ” is the actor and principal for life. This other human, this divine-human one, walked on earth, was killed, and was raised in a cosmic demonstration that it is Christ-life, not Adam-death, that is the real way of things. It is a reaffirmation of the goodness of creation, of the divine intention that we are not immersed in a pitched uncertain battle for goodness and life to carry the day. Goodness and life are the very order of God’s days.

But the distortions remain among us. We are fascinated by death, until it makes us sick with obsession. We imagine we can cure death’s effects or at least find some redress or solace or “closure” (worst word!) from death’s effects by answering death with death.

All the talk is about giving murderers what they deserve, with the sense that somehow that allows us to retain and strengthen our civilization.

But Martin Luther King, Jr. saw the fallacy in this reasoning. Violence, no matter who offers it up, no matter if it is the system of the state, or the “righteous” or the “innocent” simply adds violence to violence.

Tolkien essentially asks, “what do you know?” How do you know so much that you know who needs to die?

There is of course redress and cure available to us. It is not a simple path, not the path of revenge or of angry ventilation or even of “closure.” It is a path that calls us into another way of life altogether, the way of “Christ” rather than of “Adam.” This is the way of resurrection.

The way of resurrection deals in life, not in death. The way of resurrection is willing to struggle and experience pain and suffer. But it is because the pathway of resurrection is utterly dedicated to only dealing in the ways of life, rather than becoming distracted by the seductions of death. We are confused, thinking that putting someone to death is doing something. But the way of resurrection knows that only life begets life.

Resurrection is the the solid way, the path of love. In this path, people work hard to love and care for each other in the midst of trauma, tragedy, horror, outrage, and indignity. It cannot come to soon! There is far too much that distorts the face of God’s good earth. But resurrection, not death, is what must come quickly.

Walking the path of resurrection, our hearts may be taught in deep places that the great source and inner reality of all creation and of our own lives is the finer path of life. So we forsake violence. Not because we do not want practical cures for earth’s ills. But because life and love, not violence and death, are the only practical cures. All else is distraction and distortion.

Practices that reflect these understandings include Restorative Justice, Peace Building, Satyagraha, The U.S. Civil Rights Movement, conflict mediation, The Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program, the response by the Dutch to Nazi Germany, the life and teachings of St. Francis, the fact that numerous police departments are seeking non-lethal weapons as a way to address dangerous situations (something even in crime control doesn’t always love lethal solutions). These are practices, practical responses. Some even have implications for how nations make war. One resource for reading more about non-violence responses is Gene Sharp’s trilogy on non-violent response: The Politics of Nonviolent Action.

The world is mad with fascination about death as a solution, whether as visceral satisfaction in answer to outrage, or as a lesson taught by government to citizens, or as simple burning-heart revenge, or as the way of all nations. But Christians are people of life, not death. What will happen when we truly and powerfully live into this faith affirmation?

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What is the relationship between summer abundance and real-life scarcity. There is joy and fear wound up in these words. When might scarcity be a gift, however paradoxical? When does abundance threaten to submerge us with its much-ness into a fragmentation that is a form of scarcity?
Attached is a flyer and a registration form for a summer retreat that I am offering with my fellow facilitator Susan Kaplan. We have worked together for years in different ways, with story-telling and with Courage and Renewal events. She is a counselor, story-teller, and non-violent communication practitioner.
This retreat will be at the Loretto Center on South Wadsworth. You may stay over or commute. It will be a lovely time of sharing and soulful reflection, I think.
If you’re interested in taking in a summer retreat, here it is! And also, stay tuned for information about my 2015 retreat at the Benedictine monastery at Snowmass – December 18 – 21 (Friday evening through Monday morning). Please call me with any questions you may have.
Peace be,
Vern

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On a couple of occasions in the course of our preparation for doing work together at our Mennonite national convention in Kansas City, theological language has been used to the effect of “less self” and “more God.” At one time, the statement was something like: “You know when you need to particularly lean in to the Spirit so that you can decrease and God can increase.” At another time, the statement was: “May we deny ourselves so that we might be seen to rise together.”

I understand the good intent of these prayer and reflections. They echo the goodness of gelassenheit (yieldedness) and demut (lowliness or humility) and qualities like considering others, mutual care, and deep compassionate listening.

Nevertheless, I would invite consideration that what is within us, within our “selves” is something of infinite goodness, rather than something essentially in dissonance with the loving way of the Holy Spirit. My sense is that as we listen deeply to our own hearts, our own hidden wholeness (Thomas Merton), that this listening is a powerful and integral part of letting ourselves into the conversation, into community, into great shared love, so that far from denying or decreasing, there is a synchronisticity of love, love that is embedded in our hearts and love that is embedded in all creation. Now the good work is to bring these two loves more into harmony, rather than one decreasing and another increasing. Now the work is to uncover and remove denials, distortions, opacities, that block the inner goodness from full expression. Then love will spring forth from within and be poured into our lives from all creation – inner and outer in synchronicity.

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