Archive for January, 2017

Poem – People Awakening


People Awakening

(after reading To the States by Whitman)

by Vern Rempel


It’s always in the faces:

Shining determination.

Eyes set as if looking into the wind.

Or sometimes a flashing smile,

and laughter that started somewhere

down in the engine room

but now has splashed across the main deck.

In either case, in any case,

when someone finds their voice,

or their feet, or their pen,

then the demographic butterfly

flaps its wings.

And soon, in a place

that had seemed impossibly distant,

it starts to rain like God’s own party.

And every root and every seed

shall rejoice.

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Not being right; Beloved Community Village

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany

January 22, 2017

 For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017

Bible reading

Proverbs 3:5


Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

and do not rely on your own insight.


Trust in the Lord with all thine heart;

and lean not unto thine own understanding.

Psalm 1

Stephen Mitchell, excerpt

Blessed are the man and the woman

who have grown beyond their greed

and have put an end to their hatred

and no longer nourish illusions
(Presentation note: Read section headings aloud…)

From “carnage” to courage

How easy it is to nourish illusions,

to hold muddied or distorted perceptions.

My reflections today take off from a number of movies.

In the movie “Alice in wonderland”

Alice was invited to believe six impossible things before breakfast.

I sometimes believe six illusions before breakfast.

The illusion that I need to pretend to know more than I do.

The illusion that I am a shameful failure.

The illusion that my North American life is normal.

The illusion that I need to work hard to earn love, which I don’t deserve.

Yesterday, many of us marched in the women’s march.

It was by and large a joyful crowd.

The day before, Mr. Trump had talked about “carnage” in our society

after the Obama administration.

In the march, there was nothing of this illusion of carnage.

Millions of women, with many male allies,

demonstrated that it’s not carnage but courage

that is the order of the day.

From righteousness to revenge

In the movie “The magnificent seven”

the young woman who has lost her husband

to the guns of an evil gold baron,

says “I seek righteousness; but I’ll take revenge.”

The movie turns into a shooting fest of revenge.

But my impression of her character is that

her heart is never in revenge.

She just wants to get done what she thinks has to be done.

She comes upon a final scene of revenge,

and ends it with a shot, as if to say,

“Enough revenge; we’re here for the future.”

The best sentiments in the march were like this, I think:

not revenge, not even resentment.

Just clear-headed, joyful, fierce resistance

to prejudice, denigration, and illusion.

It’s not about being more right.

As one sign I saw yesterday said:

Love, love, love. Love is love, love is love.

From being right to being wrong

When I was a kid, I wanted to be right.

Specifically, I was a NASA kid.

I loved the space program.

I built rockets, like this Estes Saturn V

(show model)

I made a chart of the solar system

with all the data about the planet’s

distance from sun, length of year,

mass, etc. for my 6th grade class.

It wasn’t an assignment. I just did it as a public service.

Probably not everyone thanked me for that.

I loved knowing stuff, getting it right.

Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward

says this is all good, as long as you

don’t stay there your whole life.

Work on getting stuff right for awhile.

And then move on to something greater.

And of course I still didn’t get it right,

as the movie “Hidden Figures” demonstrates.

First of all, it’s of the best movie titles ever.

It could have been a sign at the women’s march yesterday,

along with “A woman’s place is in the revolution”

and “It’s so bad, even introverts are marching.”

But most of all, I had no idea about these women’s contribution

to my beloved NASA space program.

Of course, I was just a ten-year-old.

But it goes to show how I

never want to imagine I’m getting it all right.

There has to be more than being right.

On the Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) website

there is this quote from Ricardo Levins Morales,

talking about working at race relations:

“There are things in life we don’t get to do right. But we do get to do them.”

I call this getting into the worthy mess.

We won’t get it right, but wow is it worth doing,

getting into the mess of love and relationships.

Who does a friendship or marriage right?

That’s not how it works. But we may do them for love.

From being right to being related

One thing Cole and I have been doing for love

is to offer our congregation’s support and leadership

to a new village for people who don’t have houses.

We’re calling it “Beloved Community Village.”

The Interfaith Alliance is the organizing force behind this.

We are invited to be the faith community

who offers love, connection, and support

to folks as the initiative becomes real.

Conversation with Cole and congregation

~History of initiative

~What it looks like – board

~Connection invitations

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Lift every voice
2nd Sunday after The Epiphany

January 15, 2017

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017

Bible reading

Psalm 30:5b, 11, 12a

Weeping may linger for the night,

but joy comes with the morning….

You have turned my [sorrow] into dancing;

   you have taken off my sackcloth

   and clothed me with joy,

so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.


When I was 14 years old

I had a blue folding comb and brush combination.

I carried it with me at all times.

In the bathroom in high school,

I would snap it open like a switch blade

and comb and brush my long brown hair,

depending on whether it needed the

detangling on the comb

or the smoothing of the brush.

It was my iconic tool of long-hair grooming!

This being the mid 1970s,

I had other components of what I’ll call

the “late hippy cool” ensemble:

tight bell bottom jeans,

t-shirt, sandals with

tire-tread-style soles.

During this year,

at some point my friend and I

were checking out the new vinyl,

which we called “records,”

at Duckwall’s, the local,

what we called “dime store.”

We had been walking around the store

just hanging out, looking at model cars,

stuff that we thought was funny –

which could be anything for me at that age –

and now had settled in at the records.

I remember the Stone’s Sticky Fingers

album was one that we noticed.

It had been out a couple of years.

Neither of us owned it yet.

Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder.

A voice said “Now boys, I’m not hard to

get along with, but I hear you’ve been

bothering one of my employees.

I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

It was the store manager in his official

manager outfit of white shirt

stuffed awkwardly into slacks.

Apparently, one of the employees

didn’t like our looks, and decided

we were trouble.

So we found ourselves kicked out of Duckwalls.

As Delmar asks the immortal question in

O brother where art thou?

when they were kicked out of Woolworth,

“I wonder was it all of them or just the one?”

We of course thought it was funny,

that old stuffed-shirt manager

kicking us out of Duckwalls.

It also felt embarrassing and undignified

but we had no words or capacity

to speak about or admit that.

Later on I felt angry

at the indignity.

I would have liked to tell that manager

a thing or two

about how I’m a good guy

and we weren’t doing anything

and why do you kick people

out of your store for how they look?

All day long

Kicked out for how they look?

So there it is.

I have friends who are people of color

who believably say that

this goes on for them all day long.

How exhausting, upsetting,

soul-undermining is that?

To walk around with skin-color

as a flag for casual, accidental,

or purposeful mistreatment.

My situation was a choice.

I chose my post-hippy look

as a form of self-expression.

And I only mention it because

I use it as a small window

to understand how daily

indignity might feel.

To be born into a situation

in which getting kicked of stores,

being eye-balled on the sidewalk,

yelled at, held under initial suspicion

rather than welcomed.

How hard is that?

And then it’s about extra scrutiny

by the police, and abuse, and

even death.

Lynching keeps morphing into new forms

but one way or another,

our society keeps hurting and killing

people of color.

All day long.

All day long.

It is soul destroying.

As Langston Hughes wrote:

“…it was there then,

In front of me,

Bright like a sun

My dream.

And then the wall rose,….”

How urgent it is for us to be in friendships,

and intentional solidarity arrangements,

and places to take action for structural

and social change.

To get to another place,

as Hughes continues in his poem:

“My hands!

My dark hands!

Break through the wall!

Find my dream!”

Our society needs the goodness of the souls

of people of color.

Our society can’t go on undermining these gifts.

It’s like God’s handing us the goodness

right there, and we’re saying “‘No thanks’,

we’d rather remain separated and angry.”

It is of course the torment and terror

of slavery visited down through the generations

keeping alive in some form it’s

awful destructive spirit.

It is of course the ancient human curse

of prejudice, the our-group versus your-group

mistrust that gets coupled with power

and becomes a destroying force.

It is what is called in family systems theory

the homeostasis, that which opposes

change in a system even when

the status quo is harmful

to both others and ourselves.


Racism is a question of power.

The old definition is that racism

is prejudice plus power –

the distortion plus the ability

to act upon that distortion.

But there is not only the question of power.

Rabbi Ed Friedman used to tell us

to think about soul more than power.

Where’s the soul in the system.

Who has the heart to move and and change?

Who’s willing to sacrifice for the good vision?

It is linked with power.

Power needs to be transformed,

dismantled, shared, watched closely.

But I think it was the genius

of the heart of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,

to reach first for soul, rather than power.

What does it mean to reach first for soul?

It means to confer dignity

to sit-ins and refusal to ride in the back of the bus

by using ancient words of beauty:

Isaiah 40:4-5 (KJV): “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain….”

And Psalm 30:5 Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

It means to invite everyone to show up

on the mall in Washington in their Sunday best.

It means singing songs like “Woke of this morning with my mind

stayed on freedom” while crossing the Edmund Pettus bridge.

It means not asking so much

“who’s side are you own now”

as declaring

“standing on the side of love.”

It means having a vision for beauty

for all people, those who are passive,

those who are actively bringing harm,

those who are walking for the sake of their lives and dignity,

those who are watching from afar.

Dr. King always reached for the healing

that all of us need,

whether we have the power of privilege

or are suffering from forms of privilege.

Soul is when the ones doing the hurting

also begin to understand

and to move for transformation.

As Bryan Stevenson recently said

on the Politics and More podcast from The New Yorker

(April 4, 2016)

that when you hurt somebody on the playground

you’re not okay until you apologize

and do something to fix the harm.

You’re not okay until you do something to fix it.

You’re not okay. It damages your life.

(The link to this podcast is in my notes, if you’d like to see it: http://www.newyorker.com/podcast/political-scene/bryan-stevenson-talks-to-david-remnick-about-the-legacy-of-racial-terror)

Stevenson notes that it is often put

upon people of color to demonstrate

harm. But it comes to those who have

racial privilege to learn about,

understand, and dismantle the harm.

Especially for the sake of those being harmed.

And also for everybody’s sake.

What a hot mess we still are in.

Despite president Obama’s eloquent

speech on race that helped make for his election,

despite so many good and strong initiatives,

we still stumble so badly with each other,

we still harm each other so much.

This all goes to power, yes, and power-sharing,

and power-development and empowerment.

But it also goes deeper, to a place called “soul”

where there is deep and clear water for all,

for those of us mostly benefiting from privilege

and those of us mostly being hurt by arrangements of privilege.

At the end of our service,

we are going to sing “Lift every voice.”

My own commitment is to sing this

as a commitment to in fact long for

and act for the richness of every voice

in our society.

A commitment to surrender privilege so all may live.

To stand and suffer in solidarity

so that all may be in life-giving community.

To move and move until, because of love,

I am the one no longer numb with privilege,

but feeling deeply the need to reach out for love.

Weeping may linger for the night,

but joy comes with the morning….

You have turned my [sorrow] into dancing;

   you have taken off my sackcloth

   and clothed me with joy,

so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.

May it be so. May our souls not be silent.

May the benighted racism of our time,

with all of its daily indignities and harms,

give way soon and very soon to the

morning of the graciousness of

God’s transformation and healing.

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“Your body is light”

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church and Columbine Unitarian Universalist Church

December 24, 2016

You Have to Know Your Body as the Home of God” (excerpt)

By Rebecca Parker

You have to know your body

as the home of God

And this is the purpose of Christmas.

The rose blossoming in the wilderness

is the unfolding of your pleasure

as the fingers peel an orange and sweetness buds in the mouth.

The bright star in the night sky

is the sudden clarity of your instinct for joy….


If you’re like me, you tend to reach for Lord of the rings

in order to find a good Christmas metaphor!

In the Lord of the Rings,

Frodo and Sam are venturing

through the toxic, lethal wastes of Mordor.

Hate is incarnate all around.

There is little likelihood they will either

succeed or survive what they are doing.

At this deep dark moment,

Sam sees a star:

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

(Book 3: The Return of the King)

This may have resonance for us right now,

perhaps in our personal lives,

what illness, harm, loss, broken relationship might we be living with?

And of course, there may be resonance for our political moment:.

“In the end, the Shadow was only a small and passing thing:

there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”

Parker Palmer calls such a moment the “tragic gap.”

There is “light and high beauty”

and we may find ourselves walking in Morder.


I have a ministerial colleague in Colorado Springs

who recently had to give up her beloved dog Cleo.

It just wasn’t working out to have sweet Cleo

in the current living situation.

By chance, she found out a woman in her theater group

could house the dog out on her ranch.

The woman was very gracious, kind,

“You may bring the dog, if you change your mind, that’s fine,

she’ll receive great care, and she can run, but we can

always be in touch and you can always come see her.

I know how hard this must be for you.”

So my friend and her husband brought the dog to the ranch.

While they were saying their goodbyes,

the ranch-owner disappeared for quite a bit of time.

Then she finally came back, and my friend and her husband

were ready to leave.

As the drove out, down the lane,

they noted what the ranch-owner

had spent her time doing:

putting up Trump signs!

Their kind dog-care person was for Trump.

My friend felt like this was bizarre, of course.

But also that there was a chance within it.

Maybe there would be an opening for conversation.

Maybe there would be a chance to explore the gap,

to somehow move beyond the rants

about the enemy and to find,

without surrendering any advocacy for peace or decency,

to seek a bit of “we the people” with this woman.

My friend does this.

She shines the light into the tragic gap.

It can look utterly dark, like Mordor.

And yet she, radical peace activist that she is,

finds light to shine in the darkness.


There is darkness.

The accretion of heter-normativity, racial prejudice and denigration,

the massive assertion of male dominance, xenophobia,

perhaps most awful of all – casual countenancing and employment

of brutality, crudity, and cruelty.

And yet the star shines.

It is a star of hope

but not only that

it is the star of what each of us is bringing right now

how each of us is entering the world right now

With our next breath, with our next step,

when we choose compassion, love, and fierce kindness

instead of fear, passivity, and blame

then our souls will be the star hanging in the sky over Mordor

then our souls will be the light shining into the tragic gap

then our souls will not only be the goodness we wait for

but the goodness we are, accomplished in this moment

and nothing, no darkness, can put it out.

It has already been done.

And will be again and again.

I walk with you in this, now and always.

“In the end, the Shadow was only a small and passing thing:

there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”


And now I must express my gratitude for the unfailing

graciousness and kindness this congregation (Columbine Unitarian Universalist Church)

has shown to our new congregation.

When we were most vulnerable,

when we are homeless,

you offered us a home,

and did so joyfully,

with outpouring generosity.

We were always so glad to follow your service

in your building

because you left good spirits

and angels all through the bulding.

We could feel it.

We entered encouraged

and walked away encouraged.

So I say, thanks be to Spirit

for this congregation

and may you be blessed.

And I know that we will still be blessed together.

This is not the end but only au revoir.

Until the time that we have the chance

to grace the earth together again,

I say thank-you, thank-you, thank-you.

Peace be.

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Meditation for Advent 2

Grand illusion – Advent 2

December 4, 2016

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2016


Lectionary reading

Isaiah 11:1-3a, Vern Rempel’s edits

A shoot shall come out from the stump

of Jesse ben Obed and Nitzevet bat Adael*

and a branch shall grow out of the roots.

The spirit of God shall rest on that one,

the shoot and the branch,

the spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the spirit of counsel and might,

the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Holy.

That one’s delight shall be in the fear of the Holy.

*named in the Talmud – http://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/280331/jewish/Nitzevet-Mother-of-David.htm


Additional reading
Psalm 1, Stephen Mitchell’s paraphrase

Blessed are the man and the woman

who have grown beyond their greed

and have put an end to their hatred

and no longer nourish illusions.

But they delight in the way things are

and keep their hearts open, day and night.



Blessed are the man and the woman…

who no longer nourish illusions,

But they delight in the way things are.

Disclaimer: this meditation is going to have

an ongoing cat metaphor. Apologies to dog people.

We had a cat incident this week.

Our old cat, Wick, likes to stalk up

on our new cat Sadie.

Someday, they may find cat love,

but not yet.

Sadie likes to sit behind our Christmas tree.

So, in the incident, Wick crouched down

and carefully began stalking Sadie

behind the tree.

Only Sadie wasn’t there.

She was up on the table.

Sitting there, she watched

with great interest as Wick stalked her.

So we had Wick stalking where Sadie wasn’t,

and Sadie watching from above.

Poor Wick.

But it is so easy to chase illusions,

rather than delighting in the way things are.

Beyond illusions

Delight in the way things are.

No longer nourish illusions.

It’s always a good time for a 70’s flashback.

In 1977, the rock band Styx

had a song – “The Grand Illusion.”

Here are some excerpts:

“But don’t be fooled by the radio

The TV or the magazines

They show you photographs of how your life should be

But they’re just someone else’s fantasy

“So if you think your life is complete confusion

Because you never win the game

Just remember that it’s a Grand illusion

And deep inside we’re all the same.

It is so easy to chase illusions,

to imagine a cat under the tree

where there is no cat under the tree.

In this season, there are many Christmas illusions.

I offer this catalog from Sturbridge as an example.

I want to say first that I have very fond

memories of visiting Sturbridge in Massachusetts.

It’s a wonderfully preserved historic village.

And it has an immense gift shop.

I could feel the tug of longing. The cinnamon smell.

All these hand-made and crafty looking things

that echo the history of the old village.

The catalog is like the gift shop.

Such sweet looking stuff. But seriously.

Here you can buy an Ebenezer Scrooge soft sculpture

for only $129.95,

ironic since Scrooge learns that it is sharing,

not accumulating, that is the true meaning of Christmas.

Or a folksy upholstered chair for $649.95.

And the candy cane pillow for $59.95.

It’s not anything against these objects in particular.

Maybe they are just what you need for beauty in your life.

But what are our illusions?

What will grant us

the beauty and simplicity that we seek?

Catalogs and the radio and television

can be a challenge in these Advent days

leading up to Christmas.

They can tug at our hearts.

I have certainly felt this.

I remember when I was a child,

how glorious it was when the Sears and J.C. Penny

catalogs would arrive in the mail in November.

All the glowing objects, the glorious toys,

even the smell of the printed pages,

the chemical tang that meant opulence and wonder.

Dog-earing pages for parents to find,

hints for Christmas.

Fear of the holy

Stephen Mitchell’s Psalm One

says that the man and woman are blessed

who no longer nourish illusions

but delight in the things are.

Those who look for real cats

under real trees.

In our Advent reading for today,

there is a related idea:

the fear of the Holy

(my paraphrase for “fear of the lord”)

Delight in the fear of the Holy.

It is another way of saying

“delight in the way things are.”

I have so often feared for myself

instead of fearing for the Holy,

For example, I have chased the illusory cat of my own security

rather than seeking security for all people.

I have chased my own housing

rather than housing for all.

All my fearful questions gather around me:

What will happen if I have a child?

What will happen when I grow old?

What will happen with my disability?

It is exhausting to try to go it alone.

We live in fear for places to live,

for access to health care and food.

And then we may imagine that catalogs

and TV movies show a picture of a truer life.

I know this well –

find meaning for Advent by shopping.

That, as Styx sang, is the Grand Illusion.

A community of practice

Instead, we may practice Advent community together.

We may build with each other a community of practice,

doing the good stuff together,

what Buddhists call a “Sangha.”

A place where we meditate, sing, pray,

in order to no longer nourish illusions

but rather to delight in the way things are.

In this way we prepare for real Christmas,

prepare to find real cats under real trees.

In this community we are holding

generous and open opinions of each other

weeping for each other; laughing with each other

listening long and actively waiting

for new understanding to emerge.

We are saying to each other,

you can come live with me,

we can eat and laugh together

and not worry about tomorrow,

because we will work as we can,

and share what we have,

and we will find strength

in a community of love.

And then our hearts grow great..

We find that we have capacity

to move with compassion with

those who are traveling, seeking opportunity –

immigrants or refugees.

We find compassion with those

who have not found a way to earn a living

or a house to live in.

And the circle grows, the community strengthens.

And we have fun. Fun that feels more real.

Fun that is just as funny as one cat

on the table watching as the other one

stalks it in the wrong direction.

That is delighting in the way things are.

That is delighting in fear of the holy,

rather than just fear for myself.

As Styx sang:

“Deep inside, we’re all the same.”

That’s the real Advent cat under the real Christmas tree.

That’s delighting in the way things are.

Styx – The Grand Illusion Lyrics

Welcome to the Grand illusion

Come on in and see what’s happening

Pay the price, get your tickets for the show

The stage is set, the band starts playing

Suddenly your heart is pounding

Wishing secretly you were a star.

But don’t be fooled by the radio

The TV or the magazines

They show you photographs of how your life should be

But they’re just someone else’s fantasy

So if you think your life is complete confusion

Because you never win the game

Just remember that it’s a Grand illusion

And deep inside we’re all the same.

We’re all the same

So if you think your life is complete confusion

Because your neighbors got it made

Just remember that it’s a Grand illusion

And deep inside we’re all the same.

We’re all the same

America spells competition, join us in our blind ambition

Get yourself a brand new motor car

Someday soon we’ll stop to ponder what on Earth’s this spell we’re under

We made the grade and still we wonder who the hell we are.

Songwriters: DE YOUNG, DENNIS

The Grand Illusion lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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