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Purpose

“Purpose” 

© 2012, Vernon K. Rempel, (Based on a sermon from 4-22-12; edited 10-26-2018)

Bible reading: Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Alienation

Alienation: That’s what existentialist philosophers call it. Parker Palmer calls it not showing up for your own life (Hidden Wholeness p. 243 is one example; also, other notes on the soul “showing up”), or “just phoning it in.” (Hidden Wholeness p. 6)

Alienation: In the movie Groundhog Day, Phil – who has discovered that he’s repeating the same day over and over, asks a couple of sad guys: “What would you do if you were stuck in one place… and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?” The one sad guy utters the heartbreak words: “That about sums it up for me.”

Alienation: The existentialist philosopher Albert Camus offers a devastating statement about how alienation feels: ”I am too far away from what I love, and my distance is without remedy.” (I am unable to give the source for this quotation.)

Alienation: Samuel Beckett called it Waiting for Godot. He says in effect, that we are waiting for the thing that never comes. It is as if we are saying: “One of these days I will start living my life.”

Alienation: Passing through life disconnected, disaffected, going from one day to the next as if they are gray stepping stones in a gray world.

Romans in contrast

What a contrast then is Romans 5: “Hope does not disappoint us, because love has been poured.” That lovely passive present perfect verb tense, those perfect verb tenses that mean completed action.

Love has been poured into our hearts. No waiting for Godot. No day upon day of emptiness and despair, but rather love has been poured into our hearts.

I have experienced this over and over in my life. It is always an experience of solitude. This thing called love becomes noticeable in my heart profoundly when I am alone.

It is also always an experience of community. I find as I think about the wellspring of love that there are lovely ones around me who have helped me walk to the well, and who have even pointed at the well, effectually saying “there it is” with their own lives and loving hearts.

Paul’s rhetoric

What results from an experience of Spirit-poured love is a powerful new expression in life. Paul is at his best in Romans 5. The preceding verses show what is wrapped up within this love that has been poured into our hearts: Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because love has been poured

It’s easy to get the flow confused, as if Paul is saying that suffering leads to love. Suffering can lead to love. So many things can. But that’s not at all Paul’s point.

Paul’s rhetorical twist is to save the beginning for last. He turns love into the punchline. All the suffering, endurance, character and hope happen because love has been poured. Everything flows from this poured-out love. It is instructive to reverse his good rhetoric. 

If we put love first in the rhetorical flow, we may say that what results from love is the kind of suffering we experience when we love greatly. The commitment and connection of great love mean we set aside comfort and get involved in the human drama, which will always bring loss, conflict, and uncertainty – suffering.

Living through this suffering born of great love, gives us exercise in the practice of endurance. Those who love greatly don’t quit at the first sign of difficulty or resistance. Rather they wade in and keep on going. 

This endurance, then evokes character in the one who loves greatly. There is a growing sense of integrity and strength to do good work and to be well-connected to others, a strong sense of a divine internal structure to one’s heart, mind, and soul through which we show up more reliably and constructively in the world.

And acting out of a strengthened sense of character produces hope, because we are engaged well in things that matter. We have found a way to walk well, a way to hold to a good path. That is hope. Václav Havel writes in Disturbing the Peace, that “The kind of hope I often think about…I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul; it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.”

And finally, this hope does not disappoint us because it is born of love, not simply of calculation or strategy or plans for success but rather love. And love cannot fail, because in every moment, love accomplishes everything that it needs to accomplish. This does not mean that love does not plan ahead. But love does not wed itself to a particular outcome or goal, but rather walks forward for the sake of the warm connection and vitality that is inherent in every act of love. 

Purpose

This, I think gives us a sense of the structure of that which is the opposite of the alienation – purpose. Purpose is the sense that life matters, in some way makes sense, and that I am a vital part of this project called “life.”

I read an article recently (Unable to provide documentation.) that argued that college students do not have a good sense about why they’re in school.

I think this sense is easily extendable into all demographics. Senior citizens may find their lives extended, but to what end? Middle aged strivers strive, but for what do they strive? They ask their waiter or bartender at the end of a long day – what’s it all about? Young adults may think, if only I could marry, find a life partner, if only I had a better job or more education. Do college students, that seemingly most purposeful four years in a lot of young lives, have a strong sense of purpose? It’s not just about not knowing what their major is or what they want their career to be. 

In all the seasons of our lives, we may be plagued by a lack of a sense that life is going anywhere. We may too often feel stuck in a infinitely-repeating day, like in the movie Groundhog Day. Each day follows the last, and what does it mean? “All is vanity” as the book of Ecclesiastes opines.

What’s missing in all of these life stages is a sense of life’s purpose: what’s the great thing we’re here for? What’s the great thing I’m here for?

I think having a sense of purpose is another way of saying “hope does not disappoint us….” What Paul was exclaiming about, and what was happening in some of those early communities was the profound and lovely emergence or blossoming of purpose.

Purpose may be a sense of what we want to do next, or what we want to be next. Even more profoundly, purpose can be a strong and palpable sense of how we want to be, how we want to show up in the world. And how we want to be may most deeply described as living in flow of great love, which, as Paul says, is poured out among us.

Purpose as love

First, this love quickly deepens as it flows, like Ezekiel’s famous river in the wilderness. When Holy Spirit love encounters us, we now may find that we also have love to offer, and that this love is evocative, meaning it is love that has the capacity to evoke love from the other without waiting for conditions to improve. This is love that is infectious and multiplies as it flows, growing greater as it is discovered and offered.

Second, this evocative love doesn’t wait for the other or for conditions to change. It flows out of us, even as it has flowed among us. Therefore, we may find that we have an increased capacity for unilateral kindness. We may discover that love is for us right now, not off in some future. We may discover that “this is the day that the Lord has made.” As Rick Warren puts it in The Purpose Driven Life: “Because God is with you all the time, no place is any closer to God than the place where you are right now.” (Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth am I Here for?) This love is for now.

Third, we may discover that this love generates capacity, rather than obligation or guilt, as the mode of taking action. So, for example, rather than feeling like we’re supposed to do service, there are acts of restoration and healing that simply call our name. These are situations that may strum a cord that runs between our hearts, and an opportunity for service, and that the connection is completely intuitive and natural. In great Holy Spirit love, we simply may discover that which we can do and are ready to do. Parker Palmer calls this discovering “something I can’t not do.” (Let your life speak, p. 25)

Courage

Finally, this great Holy Spirit love will, I think, move us to discover that our purpose is made real because we now find that we are living with courage. With courage, purpose does not remain an idea, but rather is something with which we step out into the world and to act and create.

Church of the Savior, in Washington D.C., founded by Mary and Gorden Cosby, was a relatively small church that featured a strong small-group community process.  Through this life together in worship and in small groups, Holy Spirit love was poured out among them. The church, which is now a network of ecumenical faith communities, became an amazing engine for generating expressions of restoration and healing in the city:

—a church for people living rough, perhaps even on the streets – Potter’s house – that combined the loving ministries of food, liturgy, and relationship.

—an AIDS hospice in the midst of the bad days of AIDS, called Joseph’s House.

—a ministry that found foster families for children, called FLOC – For the Love of Children.

And each one of these roughly started this way: Folks would come to church, they would join, and make commitments. Membership meant tithing and attending, including joining others in a weekly small-group process almost monastic in it’s regularity and commitment. This is the gift and practice of love that generates all of Paul’s rhetorical flow, from suffering through hope.

Out of this practice, on a given Sunday morning during sharing time someone might stand up and would say, for example, “I am going to start an AIDS ministry. If you would like to join me in this mission I’d love to chat with you.”

Notice that declaration was not any of these more common statements that are weaker in loving purpose: “I might start an AIDS ministry, if I can get enough funding or if someone will help me.” Or, “We could start an AIDS ministry if we all worked together.” And especially not deferring it to someone else: “I call upon this church to start an AIDS ministry.” But rather that “I” – that lovely; purposeful, courageous “I.”

It rings with the tone of Jesus at Nazareth, in one of the most stunning utterances in the gospels. After he reads from Isaiah about healing, the poor hearing good news, etc., he says “Today this has been fulfilled in your hearing.” This is what Ed Friedman called “differentiation,” the capacity to say “I” in the middle of a process or system. (Generation to Generation, pp. 27ff.)

This is an example of Parker Palmer’s “that which I can’t not do.” And then the person might continue to offer an invitation, “And I would love to have some folks join me if this is also on your hearts.” No guilt trips; no being disappointed in everybody else, no suggestions for others, no exhortations, but rather the clear and courageous voice of a person who has found their path and is already beginning to walk it. This is an expression of what is called, in “Courage and Renewal” work “everything by invitation, nothing by demand.” (See the Courage & Renewal “Touchstones” at http://www.couragerenewal.org/touchstones/.)

That’s what love may do. That’s what I would argue is what the transformative love of Jesus Christ is all about. And there’s also a clue in there about where you find that love – in a community of authentic commitment to the way of Christ.

The Church of the Savior and it’s network of communities is a place where people daily walk in their commitments to each other and were inspired and surprised by the power of love.

What a distance this is from alienation. Love has been poured out into our hearts and in that, there is purpose and courage, so that the world may be made whole.

Reflection questions:

—Are you feeling places of alienation (loneliness, separation, ineffectiveness) at this time?

—When have you experienced the power of love most strongly?

—What inklings or seeds of purpose might you be noticing right now?

—Is there something you would like to declare, because of love, to the world?

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Narrow or imaginative politics

October 28, 2018

For an interfaith gathering

©Vernon K. Rempel, 2018

I love everybody

More and more, we need Ruby Sales’

song “I love everybody,”

the song the civil rights marchers

sang to prepare for facing

the dogs and water cannons

and hate on the Edmund Pettus bridge,

on March 7, 1965.

More than ever we need to march

love into places of hate,

both in our own hearts

and in our community,

nation, and world.

We may feel like the dog

in the New Yorker cartoon

(see worship outline)

who feels like he just

barks and barks without

effecting real change.

But we need real change.

We need real love.

May we find a way.

Litany of hate

Here is the litany of hate from

one tough week in the United States:

Partisan pipe bombs:

May we commit ourselves to act and pray for loving kindness.

Targeting and killing black people in a Kentucky grocery store

May we commit ourselves to act and pray for racial justice and healing.

Anti-semitic shootings

May we commit ourselves to act and pray in solidarity with our Jewish friends, neighbors, fellow human beings.

More urgently than ever,

we need to project kind words, not hateful words

we need to project soulful presence, not public crudity

we need to project the capacity to take and own responsibility,

not casting blame on the media or minorities or the “other”

whether socially or politically defined.

More urgently than ever

we need to be about the work

of making community,

community as the act of baking daily bread,

as constant as brushing our teeth,

as welcome as the drinking the morning coffee,

community as the very music of our hours:

everywhere I go, on the radio and TV,

I hear the song of community.

That is my prayer, longing, and commitment.

We had a moment of working toward community

yesterday, as people gathered in the beer garden

at Black Shirt Brewery to thank them

for being a good neighbor

to the Tiny Home Village

and to celebrate and prepare

for the move to a new location.

Everyone was there:

Village residents, political activists,

even one candidate, church people,

and others were there to be in community.

How different than the public power-feud

of party politics.

The narrow place of party politics:

the impulse to fuse, to congeal

into a battle of words and blame,

disgust and distrust.

To fall into teams, tribes,

self-congratulating,

enemy-focused systems.

Company of strangers

Parker Palmer writes in Company of Strangers:

“We have all but lost the vision of the public. More than ever we need the process of public life to renew our sense of belonging to one another. But in our time, along with loss of vision, opportunities for public interaction have also dwindled. We lack the facilities, the occasions, the hospitable spaces in which the public might come together to find and celebrate itself. And even more basic, we have lost the conviction that a public life is worth living.

“As our public experience dwindles, we come to regard “the public” either as an empty abstraction or as a sinister, anonymous crowd whose potential for violence fills us with fear. That potential is there… but we have blown it all out of proportion. As our privacy deepens and our distance from the public increases, we pay a terrible price. We lose our sense of relatedness to those strangers with whom we must share the earth; we lose our sense of comfort and at-homeness in the world.”

And he adds:

“The God who cares about our private lives is concerned with our public lives as well. This is a God who calls us into relationship not only with family and friends, but with strangers scattered across the face of the earth, a God who says again and again, ‘We are all in this together.'”

“I once asked a politically active black minister in Washington, D.C. to name the primary task in his ministry. I suppose I expected him to say something about political organizing, protest, and the like. Instead, he said, ‘To provide my people with a rich social life.’ I asked, ‘Do you mean parties and pot-lucks and socials and things like that?’ thinking his answer sounded a bit frivolous. ‘Of course,’ he said, ‘things like that give my people the strength to struggle in public.'”

That’s the work of community.

That’s a taste of what we have here

in our weekly gathering and meal.

That’s a taste of the beer garden

that Cole organized for yesterday afternoon.

That’s the work of Taylor McKinney’s

Family Leadership Training Institute,

where people eat and learn together each week.

May the imaginations and actions of our love

widen our political horizons from narrow fighting

to bread for all.

Let us generously pour ourselves

into trauma work, reconciliation,

doing justice, taking responsibility,

even as love is poured out among us.

Our national poet laureate, Tracy K. Smith

has a beautiful reflection on connection

and community to help fire our political imagination.

(in My God, it’s full of stars)

This daughter of one of the first

African-American NASA engineers

imagines a populated outer-space:

Perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone,

That the others have come and gone—a momentary blip—

When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic,

Bursting at the seams with energy we neither feel

Nor see, flush against us, living, dying, deciding,

Setting solid feet down on planets everywhere,

Bowing to the great stars that command, pitching stones

At whatever are their moons. They live wondering

If they are the only ones, knowing only the wish to know,

And the great black distance they—we—flicker in.

May the great distances we experience

be spanned by a great love,

like walking across the bridge singing,

like gathering in synagogues, mosques,

churches, and town halls

so that we may be encouraged

in the practice of being human together.

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Saulo is Mennonite Central Committee’s coordinator of immigration work. Here he offers some good thoughts on what the Bible has to do with immigration. Thanks, Saulo!

http://mennoniteusa.org/menno-snapshots/god-of-foreigners-and-strangers/

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God loves the poor

Common Time – White Plum Farm

September 9, 2018

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

©Vernon K. Rempel, 2018

Bible reading:

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,

and favor is better than silver or gold.

The rich and the poor have this in common:

the Lord is the maker of them all.

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,

and the rod of anger will fail.

Those who are generous are blessed,

for they share their bread with the poor.

Do not rob the poor because they are poor,

or crush the afflicted at the gate;

for the Lord pleads their cause

and despoils of life those who despoil them.

Mark 7:32-35

They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 

Proverbios 22: 1-2, 8-9, 22-23

Un buen nombre es ser elegido en lugar de grandes riquezas,

y el favor es mejor que la plata o el oro.

Los ricos y los pobres tienen esto en común:

el Señor es el creador de todos ellos.

El que siembra la injusticia cosechará la calamidad,

y la vara de la ira fallará.

Aquellos que son generosos son bendecidos,

porque ellos comparten su pan con los pobres.

No robes a los pobres porque son pobres,

o aplastar a los afligidos en la puerta;

porque el Señor aboga por su causa

y expolia de la vida a aquellos que los despojan.

Marcos 7: 32-35

Le trajeron a un sordo que tenía un impedimento en su discurso; y le suplicaron que pusiera su mano sobre él. Lo llevó a un lado en privado, lejos de la multitud, y se llevó los dedos a las orejas, y escupió y tocó su lengua. Luego, mirando al cielo, suspiró y le dijo: “Ephphatha”, es decir, “ser abierto”. Inmediatamente se le abrieron los oídos, se le soltó la lengua y habló con franqueza.

 

In the morning

Oh, each morning when we rise

are there not fresh wonders that meet our eyes;

the fall of the light pink onto hills

and in the sky, the towhee trills.

 

So poets try and try to represent 

a small inkling of the beauty 

of the world that awakens

day by day through the centuries.

 

It is as if a creator were patiently

trying to teach us what is, 

if only we would overcome our 

addictions, fears, and hatreds,

and live instead close to the 

iconography of grace 

that each morning and each day

wants to show to us.

 

Even in our sorrows and deaths,

if we offer each other 

beautiful love, love that looks like 

the morning and like the light,

then we are saved, then we have the thing itself.

 

Trouble in economics

But there is trouble.

The global economic system 

wants to lock people away,

shut people out of the club,

keep folks outside the gate.

 

The global economic system is 

a power and a spirit of the air,

to use the phrases of 

the Bible letter-writer Paul.

 

Or, to use the phrases from the Proverbs,

the global economic system sows injustice,

and turns the rod of anger 

into money by selling weapons,

and robs the poor with mineral extraction

and control and use of their very bodies.

And crushes the afflicted at the gate,

taking away their children,

imposing fines and fees,

in place of compassion.

 

We may instead draw near to the poor,

which is the love of God.

To be in loving community.

 

Spit

We perhaps under-emphasize 

the role of spit in the miracles of Jesus.

It is drawing very near,

the human to human intimacy of healing saliva – 

“Eternal salivation” if you will.

 

Making mud for the eyes to bring sight,

touching the tongue to bring speech.

How different than the abstemious religious leaders,

who kept their distance, kept their purity.

 

No, Jesus draws near,

and so there is immense healing and repair

of the ills and separations of his day.

 

Empire’s end

We are probably in the early latter days 

of the American empire.

China, the seething Arabic cultures, 

perhaps corporate overlords.

 

Look at England, 

how easily the sun now sets

on the once infinite empire

the English engine at once burning global resources

and at the same time imparting

separation of powers and literature.

 

The question is,

will we allow ourselves to find a place

within a community of nations,

not so exceptionally powerful,

but still with a wonderful contribution to make.

 

The U.S. contribution might be:

Politics as the endless conversation,

a strange passion for frontiers,

and of course the movies:

who doesn’t love Octavia Spencer, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez?

who doesn’t love David Oyelowo or Liam Neeson?

 

But in this, we must draw near to the world,

to walk into multi-culturalism.

We must be a cosmopolitan place 

of skin colors

and a Pentecost of languages.

Then we will live.

 

We must draw near like Jesus drew near,

be a people of healing connection,

rather than fearful isolation.

We must overcome real differences,

and also the false distances that we maintain.

Every morning we are being taught beauty,

The wonders of the day,

light playing on surfaces once again,

leaves shining, snow glistening.

 

It is a lesson, that we can overcome,

we shall overcome, our fears, addictions,

and hatreds, and instead to turn 

our hearts to the beauty of love.

It is the great way of things;

let us live in the way.

 

How will we do this here in this place and now?

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Mother of lights – Madre de las luces

Common time

September 2, 2018

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

©Vernon K. Rempel, 2018

Bible reading:

James 1:17,18

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

Santiago 1: 17,18

Cada generoso acto de dar, con cada regalo perfecto, es desde arriba, descendiendo desde el Padre de las luces, con quien no hay variación o sombra debido al cambio. En cumplimiento de su propio propósito nos dio a luz por la palabra de verdad, para que nos convirtiéramos en una especie de primeros frutos de sus criaturas.

James 1:17,18

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Mother of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of her own purpose she gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of her creatures.

Santiago 1: 17,18

Cada generoso acto de dar, con cada regalo perfecto, es desde arriba, descendiendo desde la Madre de las luces, con quien no hay variación o sombra debido al cambio. En cumplimiento de su propio propósito, ella nos dio a luz por la palabra de verdad, para que nos convirtiéramos en una especie de primicias de sus criaturas.

Mother or Father of lights

Have you ever thought about God 

as the mother or father of lights?

I love this description of God.

Ancient James, writing 2,000 years ago,

begins with resonant beautiful words:

“Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above….”

Being of the ancient world,

James’ spiritual imagination

thinks about the great goodness

that he senses in the world

coming from above:

up was divine, down was human.

Today, we might imagine the source of goodness

to be from within,

within the great evolving systems of nature,

or within the particularly complex 

synaptic-cellular miracle of the human brain.

Or, from within what could be called

the heart of the universe,

the sense that within all the orbs and circles,

gravitational waves, 

and instantaneous particle connections

of the universe,

there is, perhaps beyond expectation,

a sense of the flow of goodness.

Not unfeeling force alone

but some “warmth” as Russian physicist 

Andrei Sakharov called it.

All good gifts come from within

the heart of things,

from the Mother of lights.

Which actually might still look like “up”

if we gaze at a starry night.

Within this universe of the Mother of lights, 

we also may make

our lives a donation of goodness,

a “generous act” and a “perfect gift.”

Illegal alien

We want to, because great harm is afoot.

Here’s something absurd 

that is funny by being really not funny;

devastating for our daughter & husband:

Our grandson Eric, upon returning to England this weekend,

became an illegal alien.

They were here visiting,

and he had a U.S. passport,

which had been the simpler one to obtain,

before they left.

Upon trying to reenter,

customs threw the book at them:

6-8 days to get British papers

or he would be deported.

And of course Diana would need to go with him,

back to the states.

And then would they be able to return to England?

And what about Billy coming to the states?

All of a sudden it was an expensive legal morass.

Fortunately, Eric has U.S. grandparents

who could find the $1100 to start legal proceedings

to get his British passport,

under duress of attempted illegal entry.

Wow.

10 hours’ drive south of here,

much worse has been enacted:

parents separated from children,

no good record-keeping about 

who belongs to who,

where children and parents are being taken,

how to reconnect them.

Often, they are fleeing domestic 

and neighborhood dangers.

And there is usually no $1100

to be had for legal help,

and often the fees run much higher than that.

The idea appears to be that 

we want to keep people out,

whatever the pain and chaos we create to do so.

Rebeca and Fernando

Next Sunday morning, we may rejoice

in the arrival of two people 

crossing the border successfully,

for the sake of works of love.

Rebeca Gonzales and Fernando Ventura

will be arriving at DIA at 10:33 a.m.

I was able to get them a non-stop flight,

paid for by our conference,

which means paid for by  

“generous acts” and “perfect gifts”

given at some time to Mennonite churches

in the past or more recently.

This, I think, is an enactment

and a symbol,

of international solidarity,

across what is an increasingly fraught border.

It is an enactment and a symbol

streaming with hurting immigrants and refugees.

it is an enactment and a symbol

in a Brexit world,

the anti-immigrant fervor in the U.K.

that has now entangled our grandson Eric. 

It is people crossing the border,

in community and with community.

An act of sharing love and work 

coming from Mexico.

An act of making community 

in our small congregation 

our small conference,

and in all the world.

Where do the echoes

of this sort of thing stop?

A “generous act” and a “perfect gift.”

From the Mother or Father of lights,

from above, from within.

I think that with Rebeca and Fernando,

we may be transformed.

And they will be transformed.

Practically, we would like to increase

our congregation’s budget by at least $500 a month

to make this happen.

So, let’s see what we can do,

whether it’s $5 a month, or $10,

or $100.

This will give Fernando & Rebeca the 

opportunity to work among us,

and to continue the work we are doing

as a community with pastoral leaders

who give their lives for what matters among us.

We do not have much extra money.

Usually we have enough money.

Please let me know if you are interested

in increasing giving as we move into this new chapter together.

I think we will make something wonderful happen.

I’ll report back to you as our collection grows

for the sake of great community in this place.

We will even sound like this sometimes, from James:

Cada generoso acto de dar, con cada regalo perfecto, es desde arriba, descendiendo desde la Madre de las luces, con quien no hay variación o sombra debido al cambio. En cumplimiento de su propio propósito, ella nos dio a luz por la palabra de verdad, para que nos convirtiéramos en una especie de primicias de sus criaturas.

Peace be, dear ones.

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The in-between

Common time

August 12, 2018

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

©Vernon K. Rempel, 2018

Bible reading: 2nd Samuel 18:6-9

So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.

Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.

2 Samuel 18:6-9

Entonces el ejército salió al campo contra Israel; y la batalla se libró en el bosque de Efraín. Los hombres de Israel fueron derrotados allí por los siervos de David, y la matanza allí fue grande en ese día, veinte mil hombres. La batalla se extendió por todo el país; y el bosque reclamó más víctimas ese día que la espada.

Absalón se encontró con los siervos de David. Absalón estaba montado en su mula, y la mula se metió bajo las gruesas ramas de un gran roble. Su cabeza se agarró rápidamente en el roble, y él quedó colgando entre el cielo y la tierra, mientras la mula que estaba debajo de él continuó.

Additional reading:

Japanese beetles

I’ve been out in the backyard killing again.

This time its not dandelions,

it’s Japanese beetles.

As with dandelions, I don’t want to use poison.

Poisoned insects can then poison birds, is my understanding.

Please tell me if this is incorrect.

What I learned from our son,

who is a passionate gardener and also averse to poison,

is that you can drop the beetles into soapy water

and this will disable and quickly kill them.

You can’t even just step on the beetles

because the scent of dead beetle attracts more beetles.

So it’s soapy water in a jar.

Then you have to dispose of them by some means

that doesn’t involve their scent of dead beetle

hanging about in your yard, attracting more beetles.

This means the garbage disposal, perhaps,

or my method is to bury them – quick and easy – 

one shovel’s depth into the dirt,

lift it, dump in beetles and tamp down earth to cover them.

Their self-defense, if you disturb them,

is sometimes to fly away,

but most often to drop to the ground

where they are almost invisible.

So, I come up to the Virginia Creeper,

or the zinnias, or even the rhubarb,

I see a cluster of them on a leaf,

I place the jar beneath them and in they drop.

Soon I have a jar full and its time for the burial.

Once again, as with the dandelions,

it can feel very violent.

At least the dandelions are just plants.

The beetles don’t want to die.

They don’t try very hard not to,

but they do try.

There’s a center of my brain that activates

when I see a big cluster of beetles on the leaf.

It’s not a brain-center I want to exercise too much,

a center that says “attack,” leave no beetle standing,

let them fall into the killing jar.

And then I bury them like the serial-killer that I am.

Again, as with the dandelions,

this would not be such a personal drama

if I wasn’t trying to be earth-conscious,

to have a healthy poison-free garden.

But the dandelions take over everything.

And the beetles eat a lot of stuff.

Without doing something about them,

they would destroy the zinnias and rhubarb.

(Fortunately the mighty pumpkins and acorn squash

have rough leaves that even the Japanese

beetles won’t touch.)

So killing enters the garden

(What is weeding, after all?),

and it’s direct and personal.

I think this is all wholesome enough.

It’s only dandelions and beetles.

But I have noticed a brain-center…,

a neural location that lights up

and is ready to remove, dig up, capture, kill, bury.

Wow. Do I want to know that about myself?

The Radiolab podcast recently broadcast an episode

entitled “The Bad Show” (July 27, 2018)

The episode focused on how people

are both good and bad.

For example, the man who invented modern fertilizer

that has driven a food revolution

also invented the gas used in the concentration camps,

for example.

What caught my attention, 

in connection with killing Japanese beetles,

was a psychology professor who began

to ask people if they ever thought about killing someone.

(Location in podcast episode for this vignette: 7:00 – 10:30)

The questionnaire was simple:

check “yes” or “no”,

and then, if you said “yes,” 

there was space at the bottom to elaborate,

His first results were startling.

Page after page came back with “yes”

and often elaborate fantasies 

and very specific plans outlined.

He estimates 75% – 80% answered “yes.”

So then he expanded the study to 

5,000 people from all over the world.

Have you ever thought about killing someone?

91% of men; 84% of women said “yes”

and again with startling detail.

Fortunately, most of us don’t kill.

There’s the grace in it.

And fewer women than men.

The human race has a lot of self-regulation.

But clearly, also, some do kill,

and in addition, there is also a lot of latent killing impulse

that can be unleashed by various circumstances,

war, economic hardship, manipulation of prejudice, etc.

That part of my brain that lights up

when I see a cluster of beetles chomping away

on our garden vegetation.

It feels ancient, primitive, it feels a bit atomic:

you don’t want to do to much with it,

or enormous destruction could be released.

There is something in my brain that wants to say

“Let slip the dogs of war.”

King David

The dogs of war.

If you think that Game of Thrones is violent,

check out the ancient Hebrew stories.

Or the Chinese or the Greek.

Two weeks ago, Kaylanne powerfully retold

the story of Bathsheba, asking the question:

would she really want to be remembered 

primarily for her sexual trauma?

King David abused his power, raped her,

had her husband discretely killed in battle.

Last week, in a story we did not tell here,

Nathan the prophet confronts David about this,

saying the famous line of accusation:

“You are the man!”

David repents.

But as the New Interpreter’s Bible notes,

David’s repentance spares his life,

but violence is still unleashed in David’s family.

The trauma is not healed, and flows out

all over the family map. 

David’s son Amnon rapes his sister Tamar.

Another brother, Absolom, kills Amnon.

Absolom rebels against David.

David prevails in battle, but wishes to spare Absolom.

But Absolom is caught in a tree and there is killed.

It is Shakespearean tragedy. It is Game of Thrones awfulness. 

The telling of Absolom’s story is brutal,

but then has this strangely poetic line.

When he was caught in the tree,

“He was left hanging between heaven and earth.”

The “in-between”

And I suppose that’s we often find ourselves.

Hanging between heaven and earth.

I’m a tall white male, multiple privileged,

cis-gendered

and at the same time 

I’m wondering how to live

as I move into my 60s.

I think of this as progress.

In the past, there would have been

no or fewer questions for my place on earth.

I’m also a blues player, old advocate for 

feminism in church, and for being in community

with lgbtq friends and neighbors.

I’m in between heaven and earth.

In between privilege and dismantling.

In between past and future.

In between the place in my brain that

lights up with the lethal work of the garden

and the love of the earth and all that is in it.

As our Lord’s prayer says:

“Your will be done by all created beings.”

I suppose it is safe to say that 

we all live in between our good, wholesome selves – 

“the better angels of our nature”

on the one hand,

and on the other hand

the hungering vacuums of lust and greed

that drive the great travesties and tragedies

of human history.

For example, Abraham Lincoln is the one who the phrase “the better angels of our nature”

Lincoln was a very violent leader 

and a very thoughtful statesman.

In between.

What is “The art of the in-between?”

How do we live in the “in-between?”

First, it is so important to notice that we are all in between.

Hanging between heaven and earth.

This will help keep us from religious self-righteousness,

from national exceptionalism,

from personal egoism.

But second, we need good structures around us

and good personal formation.

We need this… Places where the language of love

is emphatically spoken.

We need cities, towns, even rural villages 

where we constantly work to make it good for all.

The work itself, the relationships that move among

economic class, race, sexual orientation,

all of this changes us.

And to some degree, it is working.

In The better angels of our nature: why violence has declined, 

Stephen Pinker, demonstrates that even with the two world wars,

and the devastating, disgusting, heartbreak

of concentration camps and systematic state killing,

the 20th century was far less violent in per-capita killing

than previous centuries, and the decline in violence

has been going on for a long time.

Of course, we could blow it all up.

Pinker would probably say

yes, but we haven’t.

There’s more food in more places,

less random killing, crime is down across the U.S.

There is no reason to be complacent,

or in any way to ever say

“Mission accomplished.”

There’s unprecedented refugee and immigrant movement.

People in the millions are still losing everything.

So are their children, who were born into this world

reaching out for love, as we all were born.

And there are always those nukes, 

and other unprecedented technological threats.

But there is every reason to live in the in-between 

while leaning toward life every hour of every day,

to make it happen with all our hearts.

And to need each other.

And to practice the language of love.

As we are hanging between heaven and earth.

David, whose violence begat violence,

until his daughter was raped by her brother

and whose son was left hanging

from an oak tree to be killed in battle,

was also the David of Bethlehem,

“city of David” where Jesus was born,

and where Mary said 

“let it be unto me as you have spoken”

and from which emerged “the peace of Christ”

to which we have dedicated our lives today.

So we have come from the in-between

and we live out of it,

making peace as we can,

finding our path, however in-between,

to connection, love, and joy, again and again.

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Do not be afraid

Do not be afraid

Luke 2.10:

But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.

This is only one example of this great and common Bible message.

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