Archive for the ‘Love your enemies’ 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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I am so sad and horrified by the shooting in Charleston. May peace and healing be among those who are most directly affected, family members, friends, loved ones. I open my heart toward them.

In these stories, there is the impulse to separate ourselves into various roles: church people, victims, shooter, townspeople, mayor, innocent bystanders, readers of the news. But what if we are all in this together? What if what matters most for all people as we are touched by this story is that this is our shared story? What if we ask questions of connection, rather than separation?

If we are all in this together, then we take action, take steps in the direction of honoring and grieving the lives lost both in this tragedy and in events like it that are close to us. How do we renew our connection to loss and tragedy that happens from the heart of race, class, or religion? How do we let this become more our responsibility. How do we say about such moments: “this is my department, my life?”

Perhaps an even more difficult task is to reframe the story to say that the shooter’s story is also our story. We may want to say “not me” about the horrifying ideation and action that could lead to such brutality. And yet, we might ask how our shared culture creates “inflammations” that can lead to a “cancer” like this, if you will. Consider several questions.

–What are our latent and active attitudes about race that in some way touch all our lives?

–We have a culture that appears to deeply believe that killing people is a solution to various problems of national safety, crime, personal safety. How might that culture enter into this event?

–What about guns, the common coin of killing technology? How do we feel about guns? How do we use them, or keep them in readiness for use?

–What are our commitments to treating mental illness and offering care and resources for those who have mental illness?

–How do we create community in our neighborhoods and towns so that people are daily formed and shaped by abundant relational connections rather than by isolation?

–There is always a strong element of personal responsibility in such horrifying events. How do we all take personal responsibility in our lives for our daily living, relationships, connections, outcomes? What all is exactly “my department?”

I think there is a lot of “we” in all these questions. What do you think? How are we all in this together? I think such sad and horrifying moments as this can be a time when, in our trauma and grief, we can seek to plumb the depths of our shared humanity and seek to find ways to walk forward with each other.

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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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Eastern Mennonite University professor of “peace-building” Lisa Schirch just completed a tour last month in Pakistan. (Peace-building is the term of art for an “overarching concept that includes conflict transformation, restorative justice, trauma healing, reconciliation, development, and leadership, undergirded by spirituality and religion.” – see website – http://www.emu.edu/cjp/about/mission-vision-values.) Schirch was visiting a variety of Pakistani peace groups. She brings home the message that much of the U.S. military effort is exacerbating rather than calming terrorist energies, fueling resentment about bombs rather than opening hearts to alternatives. (reported in Mennonite Weekly Review 5/16/11 pp. 1,2) This undergirds the argument that alternatives to war and violence are not only a matter of ethical commitment but also of sheer efficacy in pursuing the goal of a peaceful world. Such arguments bear close scrutiny because they are the kind of thing Mennonites tend to want to hear. But the evidence in support of such claims seem considerable. “Love your enemies” is a Jesus claim, and it increasingly appears to be deeply embedded in the way the world is put together and hardly wishful idealism.

The Catholic writer Judy Cannato speak directly out of the Jesus claim. She notes that this is one of Jesus’ most counter-cultural teachings. She immediately points out that it is especially demanding for those experiencing attack and oppression. How is “love your enemies” possible with people who seek your extinction, she asks. Without directly answering her question, she affirms that Jesus himself wove a conviction that love is central and essential into every part of his life. (Quantum Grace p52)

The practical and the ethical may come together from two directions, orbiting toward each other into a circle of possibility that a world of violence may find transformation toward a new approach that foregoes killing enemies, something as radical and new on the face of the globe as full equality for women or the end of slavery as a publicly-supported economic arrangement. Will giving up killing enemies become another quantum leap?

Coming next – a series on the Touchstones of Circles of Trust, based on the work of Parker Palmer.

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Daily Meditation

“After two energy fields encounter one another they are forever connected,” writes Judy Cannato in her book Quantum Grace. She argues that this insight enriches our lived theological sense of being connected to everything and to “the light of who God is.” She notes that too often “Religion… intended to reconnect and bind us to the sacred, has… become an instrument for separation and oppression.”

Regarding “love your enemies”, the often-time subject of this blog, she says “Love means we must do what we must do with care and compassion, connected to others and to all creation in a grace-filled energy that will not allow for indifference.”

I think this is  a bit of a different way of saying something Mennonites have tried to say in various ways. Regarding enemies – no indifference. Grace-filled energy. Care and compassion. By my lights, this does not mean we let people do whatever they want to us, or hurt us at their whim, or that the only response to aggression is non-resistance. It does mean that whatever we do, it will arise from the graceful and deep sense of interconnection. This includes talking to someone, running away from them, physically intervening, even causing physical pain, even incarceration. None of these acts necessarily mean breach of communion.

I think that we will go much further with our sense of what might even be called communion with enemies if we articulate and plan for such strategies, rather than only committing to the amazing mediation arts and certainly rather than more or less saying “all you need is love” in a way that permits disconnection and passivity (“not my department”).

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