Archive for the ‘Listening’ Category

On a couple of occasions in the course of our preparation for doing work together at our Mennonite national convention in Kansas City, theological language has been used to the effect of “less self” and “more God.” At one time, the statement was something like: “You know when you need to particularly lean in to the Spirit so that you can decrease and God can increase.” At another time, the statement was: “May we deny ourselves so that we might be seen to rise together.”

I understand the good intent of these prayer and reflections. They echo the goodness of gelassenheit (yieldedness) and demut (lowliness or humility) and qualities like considering others, mutual care, and deep compassionate listening.

Nevertheless, I would invite consideration that what is within us, within our “selves” is something of infinite goodness, rather than something essentially in dissonance with the loving way of the Holy Spirit. My sense is that as we listen deeply to our own hearts, our own hidden wholeness (Thomas Merton), that this listening is a powerful and integral part of letting ourselves into the conversation, into community, into great shared love, so that far from denying or decreasing, there is a synchronisticity of love, love that is embedded in our hearts and love that is embedded in all creation. Now the good work is to bring these two loves more into harmony, rather than one decreasing and another increasing. Now the work is to uncover and remove denials, distortions, opacities, that block the inner goodness from full expression. Then love will spring forth from within and be poured into our lives from all creation – inner and outer in synchronicity.

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What comes to my heart and mind is that “we contend not against flesh and blood, but rather against the powers and principalities.” My sense is that this means we most accurately and effectively view this conflict (as with all conflicts?) as a matter of spirits in conflict and which spirits we decide to make real or “incarnate” in our actions and bodies.

I think there are powerful dominant spirits of exclusion, sexual repression, control, and so on, constantly seeking for expression in our denomination. They find opportunity through people fearing change from tradition, an unfortunate reading of the Bible, a fear of our own sexualities, a desire to dominate or control someone else or another group, all the toxicity that has been passed down and re-energized from generation to generation among us.

Those of us who find ourselves called and compelled to the soulful task of spiritual and social change regarding sexual oppressions and the beauty of our created bodies will do well to create strategies that invite people to get “separated from their demons”, if you will. It leaves a margin of graciousness and unilateral forgiveness even for the flesh and blood ones who have let such damage into their hearts and lives. One may also realize and confess always the demons of one’s own heart. At the same time, there needs to be utter ferocity and persistence in what Ed Friedman called “walling off and defeating” the toxic spirits of exclusion, denial, domination, etc.

What does this look like in practice? I think again of the Unitarian hymn which sings “We are a gentle, angry people.” I think of the non-violence training exercises for the lunch counter sit-ins of the civil rights movement. I think of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. I think of Frederick Buechner’s words: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” My metaphor for myself is to seek the joyful insistence of water which will find a way across any dry land, through any wall, around any obstacle. Cracks are where the light gets in (Leonard Cohen) and also where the water gets in. I think God is always creating cracks in the old systems.

Let us flow!

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Deep Listening and Non-violenceSunday, June 7, 2015

Vernon K. Rempel

For Beloved Community
Bible reading: Romans 12

 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Marks of the True Christian
 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The aftermath of nonviolence

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, in order to find a phrase to describe what he was for, what for him was the outcome of the work he loved, adopted Josiah Royce’s phrase “the Beloved Community.” King said: “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community. The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation. The aftermath of violence is emptiness and bitterness.”
“The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community.” I love this phrasing: “the aftermath.” It is typically used to denote the unfortunate outcome. It is very much the coin of news media disaster reporting. What is often less interesting to the media is the great fabric of community that is being woven, wants to be woven, needs to be woven, day in and day out in all sorts of good and wonderful acts, small and large. If we let ourselves live into it with the great generosity of the nonviolent spirit, this will be our aftermath – the beloved community. After all the dust is settled, there stands the beloved community, the true and good human aftermath.
I quoted the entire chapter of Romans 12 in connection with the beloved community because in so many ways it is a description of such a community of redemption and reconciliation.
Paul begins with the curious notion of making our bodies a living sacrifice. This undoubtedly has echoes of service and even martyrdom in it. But I think the heart of Paul’s insight is clarified by what immediately follows – a description of the characteristics of good community. In this sense, our “living sacrifice” is a “spiritual worship” that involves showing up for each other in community.
As soon as Paul finishes that initial theological/spiritual insight, he launches into an at-length description of community characteristics: 

–I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think

–we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another

–Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection

–Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are

–Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

And so on…
Again, I think that Dr. King was using the phrase “beloved community” to describe what he was for. “Nonviolence” says what one is opposed to: violence. For King, “beloved community” became a way of saying more directly what he was in working toward. This is the thing itself. Paul calls it “presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”

A practice, not a dream

Although Dr. King had a dream, he very much had real practices meant not to be an unattainable or distant vision of the future, but a grounded reality for today.
From Duane Friesen – (Artists, Citizens, Philosophers: Seeking the Peace of the City) to Diana Butler Bass (Christianity After Religion), there is much good talk about “practices” in the church. These are actions that we take thoughtfully so that we have outcomes. This is in contrast to talking about what we believe or hope for. A practice is something that puts footprints on the ground right now. A practice has outcomes.
One of my mentors in church planting is Ted Haggard, the once-disgraced mega-church leader who, after rehab and restoration, now has started a lovely small church in Colorado Springs (Saint James Church). He makes some remarkable statements about spirituality and church growth such as “the leaders have to love each other” and “In Jesus Christ, burdens are being lifted; it doesn’t matter if you’re liberal or conservative.” But these are not just ideas for him. He’s interested in outcomes. In several of our conversations, I’ve heard him talk about various versions of “how’s that working for you?” Not just, what sort of good idea do you have? Or what do you love? But “how’s that working?”
That is a practice question. That is very much like Dr. King’s “beloved community.” The beloved community was not a beautiful dream to hold out there as a poetic longing. It was an aftermath, an outcome, a result that happens when we wholeheartedly dedicate ourselves to the practices of nonviolence. It is something that changes lives and legislation, changes hearts and social arrangements.

Deep listening

The heart of the practice that is reflected in Romans 12, and in a strong commitment to nonviolence, is a key practice: the practice of deep listening. This is one way of talking about dedicated, compassionate regard for the other. It is paying attention at a level that moves far beyond polite tolerance, even beyond understanding, to a place where we let the story of the other in some way affect and infuse our story, so that a new shared story is created.
I have a friend who is a great liberal person who loves progressive politics, attends a church that deeply loves their lesbian and gay friends: a true “NPR-listening, urban professional. But his work takes him out onto the eastern plains of Colorado. He does land research for wind, oil, and gas companies. But he is very successful in relating to the folks he meets. He says it’s because he just enjoys the people.
So, for example, he met one rural gentleman who may not have had an immediate trust of this urban visitor. But my friend observed the John Deere tractor on the man’s property. So he asked him about that. He talked about how he grew up around John Deere machines. He listened to the man’s story.
And here’s the critical point. He wasn’t just talking about tractors in order to manipulate or even to convince the man about working with his company. He just genuinely liked meeting the guy. So we might ask what an urban liberal and a rural conservative have in common? The answer is: real stories. Real stuff that we all care about. A shared fabric of humanity with its longings and commitments. That is deep listening.
I think this is what makes the veterinary stories of James Herriot so compelling. He clearly pays close attention to the Yorkshire farmers that are his clients. He not only pays attention, but he patently takes delight in the farmers. They are fascinating, they teach him, he gets frustrated and exhausted, but through it all, there runs a great river of joyful appreciation. That is deep listening.
The Jewish writer and mediator Marc Gopin has worked with Mennonite mediators such as John Paul Lederach in international mediation and in training students of mediation. In his book From Eden to Armageddon, he includes a chapter on his work with specifically Mennonite mediators. He writes that the Mennonites he’s work with are distinctive as mediators. What he has noticed is that the Mennonites seem to intuitively come to the table not for the sake of getting the mediation done, but rather for the sake of the other people at the table. Their focus is on the people, more than on getting the job done. They attend to the people and their voices.
He adds a remarkable insight to this. He was wondering why Mennonites tended toward this intuition. Then he had the opportunity to attend Mennonite worship. He said that now he knew why these mediators worked in this way. It was because of how they sang and prayed together!” (my emphasis).
Now, I have spent a lot of my ministry years frustrated with Mennonite dialogue and discernment practices. I personally struggle with a great deal of unfortunate conflict-aversion. So I was so pleased to see that at least in this place, Mennonites were doing well. The mediators cared most of all for all the people at the table. This also is deep listening.
These are examples of deep listening. They are also examples of practices, not just wishing, but doing. They are examples of practices that each in some way make an approach to creating in real time some form of the beloved community. They are examples in which people offer themselves to others as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”
This good work issues in the beloved community as its aftermath. Thanks be to God.
“Good housekeeping” details for Beloved Community: A Mennonite Congregation

Beloved Community: A Mennonite Congregation is our new church plant in Littleton, CO. Check out the new Facebook page. There will soon be a website. We will soon begin various exploratory and “first-step” events and gatherings for this new church. Regular morning worship may begin in late July.
If you would like to receive emails about the new church, email Vern Rempel at vkrempel@gmail.com.
We are now able to receive tax-deductible charitable gifts. If you would like to financially support and nurture this ministry, you may send checks made out to “Beloved Community”:

Beloved Community

5915 East Jamison Place

Centennial CO 80112

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Forgetting and remembering
May 2, 2015 by Vernon Rempel | Edit
when forgetting the past has caused us to repeat the past

riots and racism rising up like dormant dragons

from hidden caves that lie between streets

colorblind, we fail to see the sleeping creatures

until their smoky breath clouds the air

and the other: when “never forget” has become the carrier

of a reason for violence rather than healing,

a carrier of hurt and anger, trauma,

a pilot light that never goes out

waiting to ignite the noxious fumes of the day.

Let us turn quickly, generously, with leaping hearts

to the river of life that flows through the city

let us find the river, come to the river

together, offering the water to each other

cupped in our hearts and hands

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Stopping the Nourishing of Illusions

(Psalm 1; Stephen Mitchell paraphrase:

Blessed are the man and the woman

who… no longer nourish illusions.)


I have spent enough time

stirring the overheated

pot of my own

cogitation and ideation,

the thickness of my

emotion and longings.


Come out of the

hot kitchen of the

self. It is too small,

too singular

in perspective.


Walk into the garden

of the other –

that woman over

by the awning. That

man sipping coffee.

The excited and

tired child walking

beside her stroller.

And the tress with

a million leaves

and the wind-carved

clouds. Everything.

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