Archive for June, 2017

I created this reflection for Mayflower Congregational Church. These notes will also be the basis for a vespers service at our Courage and Renewal retreat in Chicago at the beginning of August. I plan to re-craft this for Beloved Community in the fall. I loved how folks joined in with the play dough!

From dust you have come

Common time

June 25, 2017

For Mayflower Congregational Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017
Bible reading:

Genesis 2:4b-7

In the day that God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then God formed the human from the dust of the ground, and breathed into the human one’s nostrils the breath of life; and the human one became a living being.
2nd Corinthians 4:7

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

(Hand out balls of play dough for people to knead during the meditation.)

The silent universe seeks echo

“Humans are new here. Above us, the galaxies dance out toward infinity. Under our feet is ancient earth. We are beautifully molded from this clay. Yet the smallest stone is millions of years older than us. In your thoughts, the silent universe seeks echo.”

Anam Cara prologue
Often the world appears as beauty to us.

We may think this is especially

true in the Rocky Mountain west.
Cliffs rise above us,

touched by the pink light of dawn.

Red rock formations melt and flow

across the landscape

The sky, in the blue hour after the sun

goes below the horizon,

attains a mysterious high-altitude blue:

what shall we call it?

Aqua-marine, azure, cerulean,

holding both depth of color and utter clarity and transparency.
John O’Donohue, in his spiritual reflection

on friendship from a perspective of Celtic theology

says that “the silent earth seeks echo” in our thoughts.
This is like the line from the hymn “How can I keep from singing”:

“Through all the tumult and the strife

I hear its music ringing

It sounds an echo in my soul

How can I keep from singing.”
There is something in nature

that comes to us as beauty,

that seeks an echo in our thoughts.
I have often wondered why this is.

My basic understanding is that it is because

nature is the very cradle of our hearts and minds.
We are “nature-formed”,

having been evolved here as a species,

and having been born here as individuals,

we have come up from the heart of the natural world.
“The silent earth seeks echo” in our thoughts.
There is of course ugliness.

There is “tumult and strife.”

Nature can feel violent and dangerous.


Human action can either play with and cultivate natural beauty

as in a garden,

or we can trash or destroy the world.

Natural beauty is not simple or guaranteed.
But is there not something persistent

in our hearts and minds,

that leaps forward when we see the sun-lit mountain peak

or walk over to the waterfall?

It was good

The Bible story of creation has the amazing chorus:

“It was good, it was good, it was good.”

The land… it was good,

the animals… it was good,

human beings… it was good.
This is a story of joyful artistry,

not violence,

at the heart of creation.
At the foundations of the earth is goodness,

not the doubt and pitched battle of constant struggle.
The faith affirmation of Genesis is

that in our beginnings,

and so by implications in our endings,

is goodness, is the art of love,

not the doubt of darkness and destruction.
In our reading this morning,

we are told that from this good earth,

the human one is formed.
“…then God formed the human from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”
The very dust is given breath.

And the dust is ancient. What is old, our source and our beginning,

is given breath in us.

Our souls echo with the old clay

We are humus beings, human beings,

people of the earth in every sense.


From dust we have come and to dust we shall return.

This need not be only a warning of humility,

but also the gift of humility.
We have come from our great clay home

and we return to our great clay home

and this is the very place into which God breathes life.


What is your relationship to clay, to earth, to dirt?

Did you make mud pies when you were a child?

Some of us surely ate dirt.


Although eating dirt can reflect hunger or a disorder,

in some cultures, dirt is prized as a digestive aid.

(See the book Fierce Food: The Intrepid Diner’s Guide to the Unusual, Exotic, and Downright Bizarre)
When I was a child, I loved playing in the dirt,

making roads with my Tonka trucks and road graders,

digging mighty holes as canyons

for my toy cars to drive over on high bridges.
What is your relationship to dirt?

Do you dig in it to make a garden?

Most of us have had to dust the furniture, I suppose.

But most of us have seem the beauty

of a well-turned field as well.
John O’Donohue, again in the Anam Cara


“The human body has come out of [the] underworld. Consequently, in your body, clay is finding a form and shape that it never found before.” p93

As you hold and kneed your ball of play dough,

consider and feel the ancient clay formed into your body.
O’Donohue continues:

“Just as it is an immense privilege for your clay to have come up into the light, it is also a great responsibility. In your clay body, things are coming to expression and to light that were never known before, presences that never came to light or shape in any other individual.” p93
Consider how the ball of play dough you are holding

is a shape like none other.

It is simply a ball of clay as you are simply a human being.

And yet so many shapes, gifts, expressions are present.
O’Donohue says:

“You represent an unknown world that begs you to bring it to voice.” pp93, 94
I’m sure we’ve all had plenty of chances

to try to understand our purpose and place in the world.
But consider again how you are an expression

of the earth, a gift of the earth and to the earth.

God said “it was good” when you were created,

even as God said this about all creation.
And yet there is “tumult and strife” as the song says.

We all carry greater or lesser amounts of hurt,

and trauma and embarrassment and shame

in our clay vessels.
We might say, to paraphrase Paul,

that we have this trauma in clay vessels.


And at the same time, we do, as Paul says,

have this treasure in clay vessels.


We need each other’s love, we need each other’s clay,

to help heal from the trauma we carry in our clay.
Bessel van der Kolk M.D. has written this book:

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

Our clay carries trauma and we can find healing.
When we offer ourselves in clay-like vulnerability

and humility to each other,

then the good expression of our unique and ancient clay

can once again find its place on the earth.
O’Donohue writes

“We so easily forget that our clay has a memory that preceded our minds, a life of its own before it took its present form. Regardless of how modern we seem, we still remain ancient, sisters and brothers of the one clay. In each of us a different part of the mystery becomes luminous. To truly be and become yourself, you need the ancient radiance of others.”
We need the ancient radiance of others

in order to heal and be whole.
And we may also remember our own ancient source,

that our clay has memory that precedes our minds,

that in fact we are children and beings of God’s

ancient and beautiful artistry of creation.
“It was good, it was good, it was good.”
As you hold your ball of play dough,

consider how “it was good”

might be the deepest truth about you.
We are creation’s story told and re-told.

“And the human one became a living being.”

Thanks be to God for our clay.


Play 511 “God who touches”

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I offered versions of this meditation on community, at three congregations: Highlands UMC, Beloved Community Mennonite Church, and Mayflower Congregational Church.

Capacity for community

Common time

June 18, 2017

For Mayflower Congregational Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017
Bible reading:

Acts 1:6-8a

When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you….
John 17:6-11

‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.


Well, driving across Denver is no longer intuitive for me.

 I keep needing to revise my driving times up.

  There can be a traffic jam almost any time of the day.

   So many drivers!


Try remembering to be a good person

 The Vatican, once published 10 Commandments for the road,

  almost like a Vatican public service announcement. 

   Maybe from the Vatican Department of Transportation – VDOT!

“The Guidelines state that driving can bring out primitive behavior in drivers, which leads to road rage, rude gestures, speeding, drinking behind the wheel, cursing, blasphemy, impoliteness, and intentional violation of the highway code. The Guidelines encourage drivers to obey the highway code, [and to] pray behind the wheel….”

(All quotes from: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Commandments_for_Drivers)
And so there are these commandments:

Commandment one is strong and clear, with ancient resonance: 

“You shall not kill.”
Commandment two is like the first and an expansion on it:

“The road shall be for you a means of communion 

between people and not of mortal harm.”
The road shall be for you a means of communion…

  Like worship! We might say, on the road:

  “Peace be with you; and also with you.”

   Young, hormonal, late, oblivious – peace be with you.
“The document specifically states that it is aimed at bishops, priests, religious and other pastoral workers in hopes of pastoral caregivers paying greater attention to expressions of human mobility.”
I think the Vatican is on to something here.

 We desperately need better communion, better community

   in all parts of our lives.

    And the road is a big part of our lives.
It even echoes the great prophetic words of Isaiah 58:

 “You will be restorers of streets to live in and repairers of the breach.”
About 8,300 people moved to Colorado in 2015

 Down to the about 7,400 a month in 2016.

  (Based on numbers at – http://www.cpr.org/news/story/colorado-population-boom)

These are amazing numbers.

 There are cranes everywhere, building seemingly 

  endless apartment blocks.

   The River North neighborhood

    is full of cranes and street closures.
It’s not the first boom. The 1990s

 were even faster growing percentage-wise.
But we’re feeling the change of the boom.

 Everywhere we go, the city is changing.

  Property values are strong, which is good for us property owners.


And there may be change-shock,

 a wondering if this is good, 

  and who’s looking after the environment, 

   the roads,

    where’s water going to come from?
And one big difference from the 1990s boom

 and the current growth boom:

  housing is extraordinarily limited.
In the 1990s, there was a lot of empty housing to fill.

 Today, housing is pretty much occupied.
Apartments are being built everywhere.

 But these new apartments rent for an average of $1700 

  Even the older pre-2010 apartments go for an average 

   of $1000 or more.

As Andrew Heben says in his book Tent City Urbanism

 housing across the U.S. is increasingly becoming

  an all or nothing proposition., p. viii

Either you can afford the full middle-class scenario.

 Or you’ll need to rely on family, friends,

  or camp in your car or tent,

   often at the risk of fines and even incarceration.
We desperately need better community,

 and we need it in the way we create and manage housing.
We may need tiny home villages like our Beloved Community Village

 in order to provide immediate, lockable, dignified housing.

  And we need long-run strategies that do not create housing 

   for “them”, treating people as problems to be solved.
Rather, we need housing for “us”,

 the great “us” of shared humanity,

   where it’s not everyone for themselves,

    but rather it’s everyone for ourselves,

     everyone for everyone.
As Parker Palmer says in Healing the Heart of Democracy,

 We’re all in this together.

The Holy calling us to community

Into all this, comes the great-hearted voice of community.

 The tender voice of the Holy of Holies

  calling us to love each other,

   to love and to find love,

    and to love each other.
As our gospel reads:

“All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.”

“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
It’s Jesus, writing the Beatle’s lyrics 20 centuries ahead.

“I am he as you are he as you are me/and we are all together.”

(I am the Walrus)
That guy that cut me off on I-25 is me.

 The woman with the shopping cart full of her life is me.

  I am her and she is me.
Holy God, protect them.

 “Mother and father of us all, in who is heaven”

  as the New Zealand Lord’s prayer reads

   in the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer,

    poetry based on Maori-language theology.

All mine are yours, and yours are mine…; I have glorified them.
See their glory, people with dark skin tones.

 People who speak Cambodian or Khmer

  on the streets and in the neighborhoods of Denver. 

   And one hundred other languages.

    With all their food, their longing for the loved ones.

     The refuge homes becoming long homes.
See their glory, young men in the street.

 I will make you restorer of streets to live in, says Isaiah 58.

  Young men in the street, no bullets, please God no bullets.
They are me, and I am they, and we are all together.

 “Protect them in your name.”

  “I have been glorified in them,” says the gospel.
We are all together.
Parker Palmer in Healing the Heart of Democracy says that

“The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can kindle the courage we need to speak and act as citizens.”
We are all together.

We don’t need to be fragmentary and alone.


In Voltaire’s famous work from the Enlightenment – Candide – 

 the main characters are harassed, manipulated, victimized,

  ignored, wounded by ancient rigid structures 

   of government, church, social mores. 
In the end, finally, after much ado,

 the characters find their way to a river, 

  and they make a garden,

   and they live in community with each other,

    born of their sheer longing for real humanity.
This is the Enlightenment insight

 that being true to our humanity 

  is the glory, is the wonder, is the thing we need.
Perhaps it is enough. 

 Perhaps it is the very place where we are

  finally able to recognize a Holy Spirit among us.
When we deeply listen, 

 when we deeply consider each other’s 

  true humanity.
And this the key lesson that we learn from the book of Acts:

“You will receive power from the Holy Spirit.”
This is a critical lesson.

 Community-making is not merely shoulder-to-the-wheel grind.

  There needs to be much sweat,

   much sitting at the keyboard, lots of meetings.
You should see our young pastor Cole’s work

 with the tiny house village where helping to build.

  And so many others from Denver Homeless Out Loud,

   and The Interfaith Alliance, and future residents

    of the village. So much work.


But something else happens,

 when we turn toward each other,

  in order to make community.
Something else happens when

 we draw into purposeful proximity to each other.


We give each other the seeds of our hearts.

 Your mirror neurons wake up my mirror neurons.

  Your body language teaches me the book that you are.

   Your microbiome mixes it up with my microbiome,

    our shared clouds of particulates.
One way of talking about it that works for me is:

 “You will be receive power from the Holy Spirit.”
So it has been with people who I only knew

 as “homeless people” before,

  and now they are becoming dear to me.
That is capacity for community.

 It’s something that shows up.

  Like being beside Voltaire’s river.

   And just letting it flow and flow.
It is not just willing myself to make community,

 although there is a will and a commitment,

  and plenty of hard work to be had.
But at the end of the day, and at the beginning of the day,

 with morning’s first song, and evening’s last light,

   it is more like Jesus’ mother Mary saying “let it be.”

   Let community be with me.
 “You will receive power from the Holy Spirit.”

 Community will grow with you

  like a well-tended garden.
There will be times when you just stand back,

 and just marvel at community.
This happens when we just risk the first connections

 of community.
When we just try out seem real vulnerability with each other,

 try out Brené Brown’s “raw, honest bid for connection,

  with each other, with other others, 

   with that woman over there

    and that man on the curb,

     or even in that SUV that cut me off.
In this way, community is not merely a job to do.

 It is a capacity that shows up among us,

  it is loved released, like when we pray,

   when we sing, when we share and eat.
“Power from the Holy Spirit.”

 “I have glorified them.”
Next thing you know, you’re receiving a book

 as a gift from a man who is homeless.

  You see the generosity and intelligence in his face.
Next thing you know, in the midst of the city,

 with all its cranes, traffic, change,

  joy shows up. Joy, and its friends compassion,

   and hope, and feeling alive

    in your own skin.
That’s community, how it feels,

 how we are given the capacity for it
“You will receive power from the Holy Spirit.”

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