Archive for May, 2016

Fierce ritualCommon time: Memorial Day

May 29, 2016

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2016
Lectionary Reading

Luke 7:1-10
After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

The gospel of Peace

This is Memorial Day weekend. A good time for a community dedicated to non-violence to gather. Not because we consider ourselves better than people who go to war. Not because we think our knowledge is superior or that we have the answers. 
But rather, because we have found ourselves convicted by and in love with the gospel of peace and it is simply now something we can’t not do. Have you ever been to a restaurant where, when you take the first bite of your entree you almost swoon (a good old fashioned word!) from the goodness. That to me is the gospel of peace. It is something that seems so beautiful, rings so true, has the texture of authenticity, comes as something both deeply grounded and at the same time soaring with joy, even in the midst of suffering.
The gospel of peace sounds out from key Bible passages: “It was good” (the refrain of creation), “You will be a restorer of streets to live in”, “I have come to preach good news to the poor”, “Go tell John that the lame walk”, “Love your enemies”, “What can separate us from the love that we have in Jesus Christ?”, “Through the center of the city flowed a river, and it was the river of life.”
The gospel of peace sounds out from those who have given themselves to it: 

–Gregory of Nyssa “Concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends anything. People kill one another over idols. Wonder makes us fall to our knees.”

–Teresa of Avilå “May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.”

–Sitting Bull “Each man is good in the sight of the Great Spirit.”

–Cesar Chavez “It is possible to become discouraged about the injustice we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on earth. It is an awesome opportunity.”

–Oscar Romero “I don’t want to be an anti, against anybody. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God,who loves us and who wants to save us.”

–MLK “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
As Hebrews 12:1 says “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” And we may do so full of the swoon-making goodness of the gospel of peace. In this way, the gospel of peace sounds out wonderfully from our lives as well.

The gospel and distractions

In the gospel of peace, we may rejoice as a people of peace even in the midst of suffering and when so much of the spirit of the age seems to be dominated by wealth, violence, and ego-centrism. Wealth, violence, and ego-centrism seem so powerful, so dominant, so inevitable and pervasive. But they actually are only distractions, albeit painful and deeply destructive distractions. But God has created this world in goodness and love, and that must surely be the greatest and deepest thing going on around us all the time. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear.
The centurion was able to recognize it, in our Bible passage:

Luke 7:1-10

But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.
How fundamental and core is the gospel of peace? “Only speak the word….”

Isn’t distortion and violence inevitable?

Faulty Towers is funny

Dirty Harry is dramatic
But life doesn’t have to be that way.

 Life does not have to be one disappointment, a chain of loss, a time of lies and deceptions, a place where only power wins just because it is powerful.
The gospel of peace is a teaching and pathway that is finer and different.
Is church better than anything else?

Well, hypocrisy is wherever it is.
But there are fierce rituals and a path of love that are not easy to follow.

Shiva, Yom Kippur, Christmas, Lent, Easter
And that is better. Life is not just “whatever” or “oh well”
Parker – to learn things about ourselves that we may not want to know
And, seemingly in paradox, joy shows up. But it’s because joy is the water that flows in the good earth of authenticity. Not because it is easy. But because it is in the work of authenticity that is the place of true joy. It is in the gospel of peace that there is true joy. By comparison, everything else is shallow.
The New Yorker as real chocolate – my friend, the journalist….

Carob chips versus chocolate chips.

Deep rituals

Salmon – the flow
What comes is brotherhood, sisterhood, deep community

 As in wartime – the mysterious thing

  But it is the experience of being part of a group

   who you care more about than your own life.
We come to love others more than our own lives, our own survival.

 And there is an ecstasy in that.

  Literally an “ecstasy” – to stand outside ourselves

   for the sake of something true and fine and wonderful.
This is the gospel of peace
Put another way, from rabbi Arthur Green:

“Covenant becomes a commitment to keeping faith with the deepest Self that is manifest within us. It is a decision to live in such a way that allows this One to be revealed to others through us. Covenant is our willingness to be a channel, to serve as a conduit of God’s presence to those with whom we live.”
“What we accept is the reality that divinity is present to humans, in human language and human institutions, and the challenge to create a society that embodies this presence.”
–from Seek my Face: Speak my Name
The gospel of peace is spoken in our ancient text, 

 from people throughout history

  and in our own lives.
It is not just the possibility of peace

 but the lived reality – I give myself to peace,

  to the presence of the divine in me

   and in others.
And then, as rabbi Green says, 

 we create a society that embodies this presence.
Not just by “trying”

 but by doing.

  We take sacred action

   and we celebrate together.
Just as the centurion said “only speak a word”

 and these things will become real.

  It is real among us.

   We are vessels of God’s love and peace.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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