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Archive for August, 2015

Stumbling toward love
Summer series on Paul and Love
August 16, 2015
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Bible Reading
As for us, sisters and brothers,
when, for a short time, we were made orphans
by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—
we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.
~~I Thessalonians 2:17

Race!
I went to a wonderful meeting
last Tuesday at Iliff School of Theology.
Retired pastoral counseling professor Larry Graham
is writing a book on pastors,
morality, and stress.

He wanted a group of ministers to
serve as consultants in a dialogue
about morality and stress in our work.

We began by going around and saying
one thing that we were bringing with us
to the meeting.

When I lead meetings, I sometimes call this
“naming our ‘whereness'”
“Where are we right now?”

I began thinking about my family,
my work, all the things I wanted to accomplish
in another full day.

But one of my African-American colleagues, Val,
a good friend, a joyful presence in my life,
said she almost didn’t come to the meeting

because she was so concerned about her
family members who had traveled
to Ferguson to be in solidarity
with folks there,

as the fires of indignity and violation
burned and burned
in the place where Michael Brown

was shot by police
in an altercation following a robbery.

What a spinning vortex of pain.
John Stewart called our social situation
a gaping racial wound that will not heal.

I think of it as a chronic inflammation
resulting from repeated trauma.
The inflammation aches, makes us less agile,
damages the tissues most affected.

In other words, it is destroying lives and neighborhoods,
and the conversation and actions in response
are stilted, and almost always
feel off or wrong to someone.

But God intends us to love each other,
and not just in spite of hurt
but because there is a goodness and
a resource we need from each other,
and we thrive when it is flowing.

But the inflammation of our history
of racial harm stops the good flow.

I often feel I can’t get it right.
It’s like when I recently tried to carefully
set down a glass on cement.

I didn’t want it to tip due to surface unevenness.
But all my care didn’t prevent the glass
from still shifting when I let go.

That’s how I often feel
when I try to make any moves about race.
I can’t get it right.

And the thing is, I probably can’t
get it right by my own action.

I have to throw myself into a process
of action and response
that is a struggle – a struggle with the inflammation.

It needs to be not just my right action
but a struggle alongside others.

Paul & Val
With my friend Val, it is so good.
with her, I am in the territory of Paul
from our lesson for today:

“when, for a short time, we were made orphans
by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—
we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.”

I am an orphan without her,
In our meeting, she was wearing an
“I can’t breathe” shirt

From what Eric Garner said
in another encounter with police.

I don’t get it right by myself;
she brings it close, wears the shirt,
makes the phone call to Ferguson.

And she is a person of great joy.
I can tell that she often says of people in her life:
“we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.”

Paul also couldn’t get it right by himself, of course.
He had a cultural inflammation too,
the open wound between Jews and Greeks.

As we probably all know, Greeks were
like unclean food to the Jews.
unclean.

William Countryman wrote a book about
Biblical culture called Dirt, Sex, and Greed.
Dirt. Unclean.

That was the nature of human relations then.
And now.

And in the midst of that,
Paul falls in love,
Paul finds love,.

In Christ there is neither male nor female,
slave nor free, Jew nor Greek. -Galatians 3:28

And “we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.”
“when, for a short time, we were made orphans
by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—
we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.”

That is so sweet.
Paul is sweet here.
he gets it wrong, says the wrong thing,
freaks out – “women should be silent”

But with the help of women – and men –
he finds his way to love.

Finds his way out of his shame and missteps,
out of his own history of violence!
See Acts chapter 8.

And then he becomes a Pharisee
speaking to Thessalonian Greeks:
we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.”

No mistakes on the bandstand
When we stretch out to each other
with whole hearts
seeking the right path
risking being wrong to get it right together

we may find ourselves in a wholesome
and lovely struggle
that we may call community,
and in which we may find healing and hope.

Jazz musician Stefon Harris has a TED Talk
“No mistakes on the bandstand”

in which are describes how it doesn’t matter
what you play in the bandstand in jazz
if you all are trying to listen
and respond well to each other.

Any errant or stray note can be woven
right into the tonal fabric
of the tune if everyone’s signed up to do it.

In this way, jazz is not about getting
every note right
but rather readiness to engage
in musical listening and dialogue,
co-creation and shared action.

So Val offers me good jazz
in our meeting.
She reminds me of the horror of
“I can’t breathe.”
And she offers friendship.

And Paul gets good jazz with
the Greeks.
He stumbles in love toward them,
and they toward him.

As John 13:34 says,
“May we so love one another.”
“We longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.”

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For your love
Common Time
August 2, 2015
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Bible Reading
I Thessalonians 1:1-3

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the beloved Creator and the way of Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace.

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Creator your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in the way of Jesus Christ.

Beloved Community
And so it begins
like a small stream slipping
from source to destination

Beloved community
a new congregation on the face of the earth,
in this place,

may it be a blessing to many,
a place of encouragement.

I hope we’ll have lots of fun
and increase the possibility
for people to live with each other
and care for each other

I hope we’ll pay attention to the Holy Spirit
sweeping with love and affection
in the midst of all that we do and say.

I hope that the infinite beauty
poured out into our lives each hour,
each minute,

will encourage us to more profound
and strong and sweet living.

It is always time right now for good community.
And everybody needs it,
even if we’re too wounded or distracted to know it.

So here it is, a place that will hold community
with great attention and joy

the Beloved Community that Dr. King spoke about,
the community we have when we banish
violence from among us,

the community we have when we
come together for good work and good play

the community we have when we can
take delight in each other
and in God’s good world

so that healing and hope flow among us
and through us.

May it be so.
I think it is so; I think it is sweet.
It’s already here.

Paul is enamored
I’m enamored by love,
not just practical love
but love that takes delight,
love that overcomes prejudice and injury
by living in amazement in the presence
of the great river of love.

Paul, I’m convinced, was enamored of love.
I used to think he was a bit of
an old control freak,

Saying, yes, in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek,
male nor female, slave nor free

and then advising women and gentiles and slaves
to stay in the place.

He may have had a bit of that.
But if it was so, I think it was so
because even he couldn’t believe
the energy of love
that he unleashed into the world.

People were speaking in ecstatic speech.
Women were hosting, advising, leading.
Slaves were at the table eating and sharing.
The Greek’s were basically owning the church.

It was enough to make a Pharisee’s head spin,
Which Paul was, a law-lover,
now just become a lover,
one who writes with joy to his friends:
“We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Creator your work of faith and labor of love” I Thessalonians 1

hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts…. Romans 5

[neither] height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus…. Romans 8

love one another with mutual affection…. Romans 12

Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord…. Romans 16

Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Romans 16

I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord…. I Corinthians 4

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…. I Corinthians 13

And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! 2 Corinthians 11

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow…. Philippians 1

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony…. Colossians 3

And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you… I Thessalonians 3

We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters,* as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing…. 2 Thessalonians 1

One might reasonably ask
then why has Paul been used so much
to keep people in their place
and to exclude people

and I think the answer is because
the leaders using and reading Paul
wanted to keep people in their place
and exclude people

Reading a text is never a simple thing.
We must always be aware of our angle, our bias,
our place from which we are reading.

Paul can be used to reinforce dominance and hierarchy.
Paul can also be read to discover a depth
of ecstatic love that gives church its true depth and meaning

which it is to be a place
at last, at last
beyond all hope or expectation

where love is the order of the day
the thing that’s done,
the thing that define’s what’s possible.

Hate has been well-tried.
Violence and revenge have been well-tried.
Hopelessness and fatalism have been a well-trod paths.
So have cynicism and sneers.

Let church be the place that is dedicated to love,
the place where that opens up
and finds its feet and gets on out.

What love have you known?
What happens when that love
becomes great and overwhelming?

Where does it lead you ?
What does it make possible?

Dr. King wrote:
“The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community. The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation.”

And I think Paul would add, so therefore love one another greatly, even as you are loved.

That will be sweet. That is sweet. Right now.

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