Archive for September, 2015

Faith Voice
Vern Rempel
In Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, there is section entitled “Civic and Political Love.” The first line of the second paragraph reads: “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.” Pope Francis lifts up Saint Therese of Lisieux’s invitation for us to practice “the little way of love,” This is the way of love that remembers that in small gestures and in grand actions, it is always love, it is always consideration of the other, and a search for the pathway to gratitude and collaboration.

It is a recognition that we have had enough of being right from the side-line, of disparaging talk about “idiots and morons.” We are all human beings. In the spiritual tradition of the Pope, being human means we are all beloved children of God, intended to join and build together the beloved community. This is a community that reflects that grace of the Holy One who creates us and holds us dear, and whose care extends across all places and times.

What if this became the premise for a new political conversation in our culture and nation? What if political engagement meant compassionate and appreciative listening and speech? What if political action meant first and foremost the search for wholehearted community, spinning relationships of gold out of the straw of everyday estrangements and isolations?

The educator Parker Palmer writes: “We must strengthen our capacity to create community. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to achieve voice: it takes a village to raise a Rosa Parks.” (Healing the Heart of Democracy) Pope Francis in a similar vein notes how we move from individuality into shared work – into community. “Love for society and commitment to the common good are outstanding expressions of a charity which affects not only relationships between individuals but also ‘macro-relationships, social, economic and political ones.'”

“Civic and Political Love.” I can think of few things finer and more important than this notion that our politics may be about that – about love! We are longing for this like the desert earth longs for water before the rains come. May it soon come among us.


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Being Peace; making peace
Autumn series on insights from Courage and Renewal 2
Autumn common time
September 20, 2015
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Bible Reading
Jesus answered,
“You shall love the one God
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength,
and with all your mind;
and your neighbor as yourself.”
–Luke 10:27

Do you ever feel beside yourself?
You look over on the chair next to you
and there you are,
but what are you doing?

Is that your nose?
Why are you saying that?
That joke’s not funny.
That’s kind of mean.
Wait a minute.
That’s not me!

Or like Pink Floyd sings;
“Someone’s in my head and it’s not me.”

Or I start my day
my stumbling over the threshold of the door
because I’m already thinking
several blocks down the street
as I head out the door
to get five things done.

“You shall love the one God
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength,
and with all your mind;

The teaching begins with five lines
about loving God,
and then the punchline:
“your neighbor as yourself.”

Five lines that have that word “all” in them.
Five lines that echo with the teaching
of Søren Kierkegaard:
“Purity of heart is to will one thing.”

I have also heard this expressed as
“Happiness is to will one thing.”

Not five things.
Not tripping over the threshold of the door.
Not sitting beside beside myself
wondering who I am.

This Biblical teaching is traditionally known as
“the greatest commandment”

This ancient teaching is an invitation
to become more wholehearted.

Over-busyness is the fundamental
misery of our society, I think.
I see it in the eyes of drivers
heading with silent desperation
toward their destination,
already late, already tired.

Fragmentation is the outcome in our lives,
broken-apart schedules,
broken-apart hearts,
willing five things, not Kierkegaard’s one.

A disease of consumer culture
and of poverty both, in truth.
Consumer culture lures us to distraction.
Grinding poverty is simply an
existential distraction of misery.

Neither is the will of God for all of us,
who are God’s beloved children,
intended for beloved community.

Neither is the outcome of wholehearted community
in which we live by reasonable sufficiency
and no more,
and all may find ways
to be fed and housed.

And so we find ourselves in disintegration.

Parker Palmer in Hidden Wholeness
writes that:
“I pay a steep price when I live a divided life – feeling fraudulent, anxious about being found out, and depressed by the fact that I am denying my own selfhood. The people around me pay a price as well, for now they walk on ground made unstable by my dividedness. How can I affirm another’s identity when I deny my own? How can I trust another’s integrity when I defy my own? A fault line runs down the middle of my life, and whenever it cracks open-divorcing my words and actions from the truth I hold within-things around me get shaky and start to fall apart.”

The opportunity in this is that I may
study my fragmentation in order
to discover starting points for wholeheartedness.

What are my conflicts,
the ways I’m hiding from needed engagements,
the way I’m torn between two or three options,
how I struggle to sit down
and do the one good thing now.

One way to study my inner fragmentation
or divideness is to consider
what bothers me out there, in the world.

This may illuminate un-negotiated spaces within,
unmapped regions of the inner landscape
that carry a charge within me.

And this charge echoes with my sense
of what’s wrong with the world.

Why am I so annoyed with that song?
Am I simply disagreeing with and resisting
the politicians distorted ideas?

Or is there something more going on
for me, something vibrating
with what might even be called rage
and resentment?

What’s that connecting with in my soul?

Palmer also talks about the Möbius strip
of soul and world.
The Möbius strip is a famous

If you’ve never seen one, they are remarkable.
Take a strip of paper,
give it one twist, tape the ends together,
and now you are able to
trace a line onto both sides
without ever lifting the pen.

The two sides have become one,
seamlessly, continuously.

So it is with the soul and the world.
What seems to be divided into inner and outer,
is truly a fully interactive and flowing process.

And I send a lot of what is in here out there.
And what is out there of course comes in here.

Not too surprising, perhaps.
But when we think something out there
is “not me,” that may bear investigation.

And when we think something in here
is just my imagination or emotion,
that also may bear investigation.

Gary Larson, the cartoonist who created The Far Side
once had one of his cows lying on the
therapists couch.

She was saying:
“Maybe it’s not me, you know. Maybe it’s the rest of the heard that’s crazy.”

That may also be true.

And then, in addition to investigating
our own fragmentation,
it is even more important
to study the places and times
when I have felt most wholehearted.

Under the rule that we become
what we pay attention to,
we may study our times
of inner capacity
for wholeheartedness.

Those times when I’m in the zone,
doing whatever I’m doing,
and doing it well.

Or times I’ve been laughing
so hard I forget myself,

Or times when I’ve been playful
without wanting to be clever

Those times when I was
creative without trying to be original.

Those times when I was able
to be present to pain,
but naturally, like water flowing
toward the desert

Those times when I would have to honestly say
that the music of my soul
was the music of all the stars and birds

and all the creatures of the world,
the sound which,
like Celtic theologians say,
was in the beginning:

“In the beginning was the sound
and the sound was with God,
and the sound was God.”
(See John Phillip Newell’s A New Harmony)

We may also investigate that
in our souls and learn and reinforce
the goodness of that.

And as with our fragmentation,
this also may find echoes out in the world,

Echoes of what’s right and beautiful
in the world also travel along
our Möbius strip, creating echoes
of wholeheartedness.

“You shall love the one God
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength,
and with all your mind;
and your neighbor as yourself.”

In this lines are an invitation to wholeheartedness,
both within and without.
Love God with all the “alls.”
And you neighbor – the outer, the other,
as yourself – the inner.

And may this in fact be an invitation
and not a burden.
May it be like the the beautiful rose,
or the next good beer,

or the cool car, or the sweet person,
or the shade of the tree,
or the rock-strewn mountain slope.

May it simply be there to consider,
and lean toward,
and to learn to love

with whatever gentleness
or urgency you find
growing within or around you.

“Let it be” as the Beatles said,
as Mary said,
as the Holy One said when
singing the sound
that was in the beginning.

(Play in C)
Let it be, let it be,
let it be, let it be,
whisper words of wisdom
let it be.


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Autumn series on insights from Courage and Renewal

Mission, not margin
Autumn common time
September 13, 2015
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Bible Reading
Matthew 9:9-13 NRSV

9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

Matthew doesn’t prepare or count the cost or count anything!
And he’s a tax collector!
“And he got up and followed him.”

No focus on survival
or profitability margins,
he didn’t have a plan in place

He didn’t remain in comfort
he must have overcome any addiction to the status quo
he chose relationship and soul
rather than structure and power

There is something so important in there.
It is the leap of faith that the Danish existentialist
Søren Kierkegaard talked about.

Kierkegaard is the one who said,
“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”

It sounds like something from a self-help book
in the 21st century.
But he said it before his death in 1855.
It was a ground-breaking insight
in an analysis addicted time.

It is an invitation to
move from head to heart in living,
to stop overthinking

As one one of my friends heard someone say
in a school staff meeting
“We need less information on this subject.”

More responsibility. Decisiveness.
More courage. More willingness to say,
I will commit to this,
because it seems right.

And I will do so in public,
willing to work for a good outcome
and willing to be identified with the decision

In this way, Kierkegaard’s invitation
is to move from head to heart,
but also, perhaps, head to feet.
willing to be responsible to make a move.

Like Matthew:
“He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.”

A willingness to go ahead and start down a path.

If I had known how much improvisation was involved
I never would have tried to raise children.

Improvisation in adulthood, into maturity.
Figuring it out as we go, step by step.
But taking the step.

Maple City Health Care Center
Okay, very good.
Now, in addition to the willingness to risk,
to step out, to take responsibility,
to move, to improvise
there is one more thing….

In Goshen, Indiana, there is a health care center
whose mission is to serve all people
including people of all income levels.

This is described in the book by Joanna Shenk,
Widening the circle: Experiments in Christian discipleship

One of the many good chapters in this book
is about that health care center.

The title of the chapter is
Maple City Health Care Center.
But the subtitle may not be what one would expect:
“Dying to the fear of death”

Just what you would expect in a nice chapter
about developing a nice inclusive health care center!
Or not…

James Nelson Gingerich, the doctor who founded
the Maple City Health Care Center
tells the story of how years ago,

he was in a hospital board meeting.
They were exploring how to better meet
community health care needs.

The CEO said, as if it were obvious:
“No margin, no mission.”
In other words,
no financial and institutional structure,
no mission, (because no hospital).

But Gingerich heard these words
and found himself saying,
“No, no mission, no mission.”

In the chapter, he writes:
“Faced with decisions, the basic impulse, from which all else flows, is [for a group or institution] to ask one of two questions: Does this move make us more secure—more financially solvent or more profitable? Or does this move fit with our vision and our mission, our reason for being? Quite apart from the answers, our asking of either question sets fundamental direction.”

That is a mouthful.
I don’t know how many times I’ve
been in meetings where some version of
“We need money to survive.”

And the unspoken message there is
“And if we don’t survive, our mission will fail.”
“No margin, no mission.”

But Gingerich writes that anytime we ask
survival questions, we have already
turned off the path of mission.

And he doesn’t stop there.
He see a giant Biblical teaching
that sustains his point:

He writes:
“The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus shared our flesh and blood so that he might destroy the one who has power of death “and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15 NIV). I wonder whether we apply this wisdom to our church bodies, our institutions, and our congregations.”

And he continues:
“Do we believe in Jesus’ power to free us institutionally from our bondage to the fear of death? Do we focus on institutional survival, or can we trust our organizations’ future to God’s provision and protection and instead focus on seeking God’s reign and its justice.”

What Gingerich has articulated is astonishing.
An institution that cares not for its survival
but rather for its mission.

Years ago, I read a playful little book
by John Gall called Systemantics.
It was about how systems behave and misbehave.

One of its memorable examples for me
was of the Boy Scouts of America.

The Boy Scouts was created to promote camping.
But then, after organizing, getting all the rules,
and bylaws, and structure in place,
it ended up promoting scouting.

You could tell by how often discussion focused
around what’s good for scouting
and the culture of scouting.

A leading example is that there recently
was a furor over gay scout leaders.
I’ve never heard anyone say
that being gay is a problem for camping.
But for scouting…. Hmm.

Thank goodness the organization is
trying to do a bit better with that, in fits and starts.

How often is it also true that the church,
which was created to call people
together into loving community
ends up calling people just into church?

Church with all its necessities, restrictions,
rules, precedents, and especially
its need to survive.

That’s the one thing a movement
gathered around a crucified Galilean peasant
could understand:

Love does not depend on our survival
but rather on our love.
It is out of love that resurrection comes,

And through resurrection,
love comes pouring back into the world again and again.
Survival does not keep the love flowing.
Love keeps the love flowing.

No margin, no mission?
Rather – no mission, no mission.
Survival will not carry the love of Christ.
Love will carry the love of Christ.

Kierkegaard also said:
“Let us speak of this in purely human terms. Oh! how pitiable a person who has never felt the loving urge to sacrifice everything for love, who has therefore been unable to do so!”
― Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

The Maple City Health Care Center
was founded to provide health care
to people of all income levels.

To do this, they learned they could not
be addicted to money.
They could not even be dedicated
to money.

All income levels sometimes means
no money, or very little.

Now, it is a great thing to use our money
to build community.
It is a key way of giving oxygen
to something we love,
and a way to put our hearts into it.

But in the case of the Maple City Health Care Center
Gingerich found survival talk around money
and related strategies so dangerous
to their mission

that anytime anyone mentioned survival
in organizational discussion,
he raised a red flag.
No mission, no mission.

And in order to this,
he said, the center had to be willing to die,
or willing to fail and accept loss.

Otherwise, it would be tempted to stray
from such a risky and unexplored mission.

A bit of blue coyote
There is of course a good bit of
the blue coyote for me in this.

If you don’t know, it was a dream
about a blue coyote inviting into
the scrub grass wilderness
that moved me finally
to risk for the sake of this new community.

One thing was clear in the dream.
The blue coyote wasn’t inviting me
to a walk of security, success, and survival.

The invitation was to risk everything
for a heart’s song, a heart’s longing,
and to put feet to that longing,
and follow the coyote
a.k.a. the Holy Spirit, I think,
into the scrub grass.

So now I find myself walking around
following the coyote.
That choice seems full of risk, and full of life.

I’m so pleased to be here with you.
It is not a solo project.
May we be gifts to each other.

And may we love that thought:
mission is mission;
love is love.

There is no other path,
no separate guarantee.
only what Matthew had from Jesus:
“Follow me.”

“And he got up and followed him.”

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Children of the day?
Summer series on Paul and Love
September 6, 2015
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Bible Reading
I Thessalonians 5:1-5
5:1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! 4 But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5 for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.

Of the night
You are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.

Or are we?

I wonder if there is any child
who has not scared her or himself
in a dark house?

Perhaps an old house with dark woodwork,

or staying with the family at a lonely
cabin, with secret cracks
into which the wind whistles
while the parents are still asleep.

Or maybe best of all a dank basement
with doubtful closets and cupboards,
and a turn or two in the hall
outside the bedroom door.

Only a flashlight for illumination.
A well-placed story or two,
a creak from an invisible place,
and – huh! – the startle.

And then, because it’s really safe,
the frisson,
which apparently is a French word
meaning “almost pleasurable sensation of fright.”

From early on we know there are
scary things out there.
And soon enough, we learn
that there are scary things in here.

And at some level, we know that
we need to address them.

Paul’s friends in the Greek city of Thessalonika
find themselves compelled to a
new kind of love and community.

But as Ed Friedman always said,
if you try something new,
expect sabotage.

The system called the status quo, homeostasis,
the way things are,
feels pain at some intestinal level
whenever something genuinely new
comes along.

And so conflict begins.
And in a few decades, conflict grows
to persecution by the Roman empire.

And so Paul speaks to them.
And here’s the the thing.
He should know about conflict and persecution.

A few years before, he was the persecutor,
the one dragging people into court
and even execution,
because of the threat of their new
love and community.

And so destruction has been inside him.
And there are destructive forces
arrayed against the Thessalonians and others.

And also… it is within them.
Within, without, as Pink Floyd sings.
(Us and Them)

Which brings us to Hellboy.

********Hellboy Seed of destruction pic here*********
(v1 cover)

Hellboy is a graphic novel character,
a red demon with a large stone hand
for a right hand.

*********stone hand pic*************
(v1; ch1)

He was summoned to earth by paranormal incantations of
Nazis seeking to turn the tide of the war.

But the Nazis get the location wrong,
and he is greeted instead by American soldiers,
who take the infant demon in
and befriend him.

**********infant with soldiers pic*************
(v1; ch1)

He is raised by a kindly scientist and explorer,
Professor Bruttenholm (pronounced “broom”).

And he has powers.
He’s stronger and heals more quickly
than human beings.

And he has that great stone hand,
which is great for pounding
frog monsters and the like.

**********frog monster pic***********
(v1; ch1)

The thing which we all know too well,
I imagine,
is that the minute we begin
pounding frog monsters

we begin to also sense the frog monster within.
Destruction comes to us from the outside:
“You should know better…”
“What will people think…”
Messages that come to us sometimes directly from those close to us, but perhaps more often seeping in between the social cracks.
Past trauma still hurting us
Old bullying or outright assault
And sabotage – no good deed goes unpunished
don’t try something new

Like Lucy says to Charlie Brown
when the team is all upset about a
change in strategy
“Yeah, Charlie Brown – what are you trying to do? Make us nervous?”

And we know too well our own capacity
to hurt the ones we love,
and to neglect ones who need us,
and to reside in comfort

while the refugee seeks food and shelter,
and the person living on the street stands isolated
in her mental illness.

And so on.

Thank goodness there is grace
that flows over all this,
forgiveness, a generosity of spirit
that I have felt so often.

Because it is hard to discover the frog monster within.

Hellboy is out there pounding monsters
and evil demons,
in order to stop there destructive schemes

which tend to be some version of taking over the world
or at least their part of it.

But it turns out his stone hand
is also known as the Right Hand of Doom.
And it could be the key to
unleashing the end of the world
known as Ragnarok in Norse mythology.

And so there is Hellboy’s paradox,
the very hand that pounds evil
may also be the hand of ultimate destruction.

*******right hand of doom pic********
(v4 cover)

Thank goodness there is grace
and forgiveness.

We who seek love wholeheartedly,
as Paul says, a children of light,
and children of the day.

We know the truth of “within/without”
We know that there is destruction out there
and we found ourselves connected to it,

As the old Mills Brother’s song went
“You always hurt the one you love…
With a hasty word you can’t recall, so
If I broke your heart last night
It’s because I love you most of all.”

Or as Paul says in another place
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15)

All the micro-aggressions we visit on each other
by mistake, by neglect,
by something deeper we don’t want to contemplate

It’s what makes sitting in silence scary sometimes.
We discover that like Hellboy,
we have hands that can do good,
but can also be hands of doom.

Dearest freshness deep down
And that is the place where love meets us.
It is into that place where shame
and longing to do what is good
come together

that is the place where love meets us
and does not leave us alone.
Love does not need perfection
or a sunny personality.

Rather, love poses us the great existential question:
Yes there is destruction out there:
Awful Nazi and Isis destruction.

And yes, there is destruction in here.
How much will I let myself
care and be moved?

What is my dedication to compassion.
What is my capacity for the powerful non-violent
work of stopping evil?

What will I decide? How will I live?
Will the torn and beautiful world
be cured by violence?

Or can I risk for the sake of love?
Will I make a “raw, honest bid for connection”
as Brené Brown puts it?

In her book Daring Greatly
she offers “10 guideposts for wholehearted living”
Number 4 is:
Cultivating gratitude and joy:
Letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark.

Cultivating gratitude and joy.
Letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark.

A raw, honest bid for love
not in some happy, pretend world
but in this real world.

In the end, Hellboy rejects the supposed
destiny of his stone hand.

***********the great “no” pic***********
(v3; ch5)

In battle, he breaks off his demon horns,
rejecting that he is born for destruction.

********breaking off horns pic***********
(v3; ch5)

And he refuses the offer from a great demon:
“In hell, in pandemonium, the house of the fly, there is a seat reserved for you. The crown will wait for you there, when you want it. Call me.”

I have heard echoes of that offer in my life,
the chance to grow great
in ego and domination.

**********call me & walking to morning pic************
(v4; Box full of evil)

But Hellboy, says “Don’t hold your breath….”
And he walks off into the light of morning,
finds his friend Abe,
and together they seek another day.

The poet Hopkins writes
“There lives a dearest freshness deep down things.”

That is an astonishing affirmation.
One might suspect that there lives
a great rot and distortion deep down things.

But that is exactly the risk of love,
the gospel risk,
the “raw, honest bid for connection.”

We are offered, hour by hour, and day by day,
the opportunity to walk,
like Hellboy,

away from destruction and into the light of a new day.
I love that.
It is joy.

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