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Small & large: En la frontera

Common time

June 24, 2018

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

©Vernon K. Rempel, 2018

Bible readings:

Lectionary readings:

Nan – Pero el SEÑOR dijo a Samuel: No mires a su apariencia, ni a lo alto de su estatura, porque lo he desechado; pues Dios ve no como el hombre ve, pues el hombre mira la apariencia exterior, pero el SEÑOR mira el corazón.

—1 Samuel 16:7 La Biblia de las Americas

Douglas – But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

—1 Samuel 16:7 NRSV

Connie – Maestro, ¿no te importa que perezcamos? Y levantándose, reprendió al viento, y dijo al mar: ¡Cálmate, sosiégate! Y el viento cesó, y sobrevino una gran calma. Entonces les dijo: ¿Por qué estáis amedrentados? ¿Cómo no tenéis fe?

Marcos 4:38b-40 La Biblia de las Americas

Dwight – “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

—Mark 4:38b-40 NRSV

Additional reading:

Elizabeth – Y sucedió que a la séptima vez, él dijo: He aquí, una nube tan pequeña como la mano de un hombre sube del mar. Y dijo: Sube, y di a Acab: “Prepara tu carro y desciende, para que la fuerte lluvia no te detenga.”

—I Reyes 18:44 La Biblia de las Americas

John – At the seventh time he said, ‘Look, a little cloud no bigger than a person’s hand is rising out of the sea.’ Then he said, ‘Go and say to Ahab, “Harness your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.” ’

—I Kings 18:44

Fake stuff (lies)

I’m sure you’ve had the same experience I’ve had.

People tell us things that aren’t true.

“Important – open immediately” most likely means

that it’s not important and you never need to open it.

Let’s see… (open letter that arrived this week).

And this email, official looking from our website host,

Squarespace:

“Squarespace support: Account transactions in review”

According to this, they were unable to process our payment.

I noticed the amount they were trying to process was incorrect.

So I went to the website, checked the billing,

and everything was fine.

The spammer wanted my credit card information to be “updated.”

And this, which is how last week, and then this week began…,

something like “We have no choice but to separate

parents and children, because of existing legislation.”

There’s nothing we can do.

We need some truth.

Here’s a bit of truth as I understand it.

1. En la frontera

On Wednesday, this was a reversal,

thank goodness.

But really only a distraction

from the rolling crisis that is our border.

A way of changing something that

was getting a lot of press

to something that will continue to be bad,

but perhaps less noticeable.

Immigration fear, loathing

nativist policies, the vein that

runs deep in our culture,

in world culture: don’t come knocking at our door.

We have ours; get yours elsewhere.

We celebrate Ellis Island in the east

and the lesser known Angel Island in San Francisco.

But we have a long history

of giving in to anti-immigrant fear, fervor, fever.

Fareed Zakaria, writing in the Washington Post, June 22,

makes the case that we as a culture

lost religious faith in the 20th century,

and that it is being replaced by nationalism.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/democrats-may-be-walking-into-an-immigration-trap/2018/06/22/363f32d6-7590-11e8-b4b7-308400242c2e_story.html?utm_term=.88bd30c23ebc

Now more than ever, our borders may

not only feel functional but sacred.

Years ago, Mary Douglas in her book Purity and Danger,

wrote that societies that feel unsettled, or at risk, or in conflict,

regard borders like body boundaries

and body boundaries like borders.

Border crossing can begin to feel like

the social equivalent of personal boundary violations.

We as a society need to face each other,

come to terms with each other,

in communities across the U.S.,

we need a better conversation.

Congress is gridlocked to some degree

because we the people are gridlocked.

President Trump’s popularity

right now is at 45%.

A lot of people support at least

part of what he’s offering.

And a lot of that looks to me like

fear and violent self-protection.

Congress is distorted by money.

But we the people may be equally

distorted by mutual isolation.

We need to come to terms with each other.

For the sake of all those vulnerable

people at our borders, and among us.

But that is hard, that is a giant undertaking.

That is our Goliath.

Our Bible passage reads about giant problems:

The Lord does not see as mortals see;

they look on the outward appearance,

but the Lord looks on the heart.”

We need the divine eyes,

the eyes of God,

to see the heart,

to see the heart of our culture,

and our immigration fever,

our fear and loathing,

and how to find hearts of compassion and hope.

We need shepherd boys and girls, like David,

who know how to get things done with just the

small tools at hand.

Because what matters is the heart,

not the outward appearance.

With that perspective,

all you need is a little cloud,

as in our additional reading,

a little cloud and you better get going,

because the love is going to rain down.

Hitch up the horses!

The prophet says

that its going to rain

compassion at the border.

May it be so.

May it begin with me.

2. Small

The story of David is about small meeting large.

Ahab and that tiny cloud is about small beginnings.

It’s going to rain!

We also begin small.

Smaller than I knew.

The Radiolab podcast, June 15, “The Primordial Journey”

is about where our reproductive cells come from.

They develop when we are in embryonic form.

The cells that are going to become

sperm and egg cells come from the wilderness.

They come from a membrane called the “allantois”

(spell it).

This is where the early tiny embryo

excretes waste before it has excretory systems.

It is the embryonic trash dump,

a tiny wasteland where gases are exchanged,

nitrogen removed, that sort of thing.

I imagine a west-Texas oil field.

In the small but already complex world

of the embryo, it is the out of the way place,

it’s way on the north-east side

in the industrial flatlands of the embryo.

Here there reside about 40 cells.

These are the stem cells of the entire human race.

These are the cells that will become

all the reproductive cells in this individual.

40, living in the middle of nowhere.

Then they make an amazing migration

and before anyone sees them coming,

you have sperm and eggs,

the seeds of a whole new generation.

I think there is something in our deep

consciousness, in our most

attentive spirituality,

that knows this sort of thing is true,

knows this sort of thing is almost always true.

From the smallest places,

from the tiniest beginnings,

comes all life itself.

As the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention put it last week:

We do not expect salvation to come on the wings of Air Force One

but from a cradle in a manger.

The allantois of the the Jesus story.

The out of the way place.

Can anything good come from Nazareth?

See those cells coming from the wasteland?

See that baby in the poor shed over there?

See that cloud just the size of a hand.

That’s life, that’s salvation, that’s rain, my friend.

And it’s going to be good.

3. How do we do this?

How do we do this?

How does this work for us?

I find myself asking

what is in my heart at this moment?

What steps can I take toward my neighbor

to help overcome fear, theirs and mine,

to create communities

that have capacity, capacity for compassion,

for welcome,

why not even capacity to change global relationships?

Tracy K. Smith, our current poet laureate

says that the power of poetry is that it is the

language of authentic witness.

She writes:

It is not the language of sharing and following, or buying and wearing, but rather that [language] of bearing deep and unabashed witness to the urgencies and upheavals of lived experience, that comes closest to bringing us into visceral proximity with the lives and plights of others.”

We need to share who we really are,

with each other, in our political processes,

and with friends and strangers from around the world.

We need to bear true witness:

Who am I in relation to this and how do I speak

and act because of whom I am?

We need Brené Brown’s “raw, honest bid for connection”

with each other.

What is in my heart?

How will I bid for connection.

What is my witness as I bear witness?

I need not a gut check but a heart check.

Where is my heart?

I have to calm my fears of financial loss.

Get into strong community of people who care.

Find realistic desires for security,

not the overheated absolutes of a wealthy society

gone crazy with desire for guarantees and control.

I need to make sensible and soulful connections

with people from all around the world,

and learn how to take steps out of my

artificial middle-class umbrella

of nervous comfort.

So I don’t waste my precious, lovely days

just chasing vanishing dreams

of privilege and separation.

And for heaven’s sake,

I need to turn my starry eyes away

from the military might, bomb, bullet,

and drone show of the U.S.

We were in Colorado Springs on Wednesday

to celebrate a new banner project of

peace-witness Peter Sprunger-Froese.

The banner he holds up outside

military installations says:

Conscience bothering you about war?

Call the Mennonite Church.

And there’s a phone number…..

What witness will they get if they call the number?

Peter will answer

Good start.

Then what?

Are we a powerful community of love?

Will we share our lives, our treasure?

There’s a small cloud on the horizon.

There’s a young sheep-herder walking up.

There’s a baby in the shed.

There’s a heart like an

out-of-the-way cell just forming.

It’s going to develop into a whole world of love.

It’s going to rain, my friend.

There will be laughter at the border.

Let’s go, let’s be the cells of new life.

No waiting for Air Force One.

Just the start-small authentic witness of our hearts.

Thanks be to God.

***

Notes:

From my note to The Mennonite:

–Pastor Cole Chandler and I wanted to be part of recognizing this new initiative for creative peacemaking by peaceful means. I love the invitation to “Call the Mennonite Church.” This invitation holds a powerful sense of purpose for our Mennonite movement, that we might be a place of freedom and restoration from a culture of war-making, and that we’re only a call away. In so doing, we are inspired by the Spirit of Christ who moves among us, calming our fears, strengthening our courage, and so making good conditions for a lasting and authentic peace. Peter, with great insight and simplicity, takes another step in this pathway of the peace of Christ, by simply making public a message and an invitation to anyone who may see it. This is the kind of thing that our congregation and our conference love to be a part of.

–Re Tracy K. Smith:

The U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith offers a powerful reflection on bearing witness, that I’d like to have read (invite reader here).

“In case I haven’t said it clearly, the language circulating upon the surface of the 21st century is in the business of pulling us away from the interior, the reflective, the singular, the impractical and the un-summarizable. In such a current, the language of poetry is a radically re-humanizing force, because it is one of the only generally accessible languages that rewards us for naming things in their realness and their complexity. And despite what social media would have us believe, it is not the language of sharing and following, or buying and wearing, but rather that of bearing deep and unabashed witness to the urgencies and upheavals of lived experience, that comes closest to bringing us into visceral proximity with the lives and plights of others.”

—Tracy K. Smith: ‘Staying Human: Poetry in the Age of Technology’, April 2017

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/tracy-k-smith-staying-human-poetry-in-the-age-of-technology/2018/05/29/890b6df2-629b-11e8-a768-ed043e33f1dc_story.html?utm_term=.89c113ff34a7

Transformation

June 24, 2018

For First Mennonite Church of Denver

Vernon K. Rempel

Psalm 51

Create in me a clean heart, O God. A new heart.

A heart of peace.

Romans 12:1,2

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.

1. Be transformed

Create in me a clean heart, O God. A new heart.

A heart of peace.

Be transformed by the renewal of your mind…

that’s the verse

but it’s hard, very difficult

to have one’s mind changed.

In my experience,

it feels like getting lost,

like having the flu,

feels like depression and becoming incompetent.

It is also powerfully joyful,

as if you have discovered

a hidden spring in your heart

where there was once only scrub land.

Especially if what you do you do for love,

But it’s not a path of only sunshine and flowers.

As the cool 1970s lyric says,

from our friend J.D. Martin,

back then writing as Jerry Derstine,

“It’s so hard to really see, from the other’s point of view.”

That good 1970s “really.”

“Really, man.”

J.D. captured something in that phrase,

in its 1970s accent.

I’m not going to talk about

“I really don’t care” jackets.

But it is is hard, it is really hard,

to see from another’s point of view.

Really hard to see from any

other point of view.

Be transformed by the renewal of you mind.

A really new perspective?

That is hard.

It can be love, But it is difficult.

As Scott Peck used to say,

All love is work, and work is painful,

so genuine change, genuine work, involves pain.

He said it is usually accompanied

by situational depression.

Or as Parker Palmer says,

we may find God by going down, not up.

That follows the Jesus way for sure:

Wilderness temptations, family rejection,

misunderstanding friends, violent repression

by the government, the death penalty.

All of these precede the power and beauty

of Easter morning.

Of course, the other way to say it is also true.

Isn’t any hardship and difficulty worth it

on the path to Easter morning?

Isn’t anything worth enduring

for the elegance, joy, and simplicity

that comes from true transformation in love?

2. What does that look like?

Create in me a clean heart, O God. A new heart.

A heart of peace.

Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.

What’s that look like?

One example:

Since this is music Sunday,

music! with Miles Davis and his 1959 album Kind of blue.

Before there was Kind of blue, there was bepop:

Wikipedia will help us out here:

Bebop … is a style of jazz developed in the early to mid-1940s in the United States, which features songs characterized by a fast tempo, complex chord progressions with rapid chord changes and numerous changes of key, instrumental virtuosity, and improvisation based on a combination of harmonic structure, the use of scales and occasional references to the melody.

Play Well you needn’t from 1944, Thelonious Monk, as an example

“Fast tempo, complex chord changes.”

Now Thelonious is a genius, and I can’t begin to play what he played.

And it was glorious complexity a lot of the time.

(Although Blue Monk was an exception from 1952 that anticipated Davis’

turn to the blues)

Now came Kind of blue

Davis took jazz, mixed it the soul and blues,

and dropped an album for the ages.

With an astonishing sextet of:

saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb, with former band pianist Bill Evans appearing on most of the tracks in place of Kelly,

and Miles Davis on trumpet.

It is considered by many critics

to be the greatest album of jazz.

It took complex modal jazz

and made it sound harmonious, open, and free:

Here’s an example:

Play So What

Now that’s transformation.

3. How do we do this?

Create in me a clean heart, O God. A new heart.

A heart of peace.

Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.

How do we do this?

How does this work for us?

I find myself asking

what is in my heart at this moment in our culture.

Children crying and traumatized at the border.

Drones dropping bombs in remote locations.

Use of economic sanctuons to starve or to feed,

as policy to project and sustain our power.

What steps can I take toward my neighbor

to help overcome fear, theirs and mine,

to create communities

that have capacity, capacity for compassion,

for welcome,

why not even capacity to change global relationships?

Tracy K. Smith, our current poet laureate

says that the power of poetry is that it is the

language of authentic witness.

She writes:

It is not the language of sharing and following, or buying and wearing, but rather that [language] of bearing deep and unabashed witness to the urgencies and upheavals of lived experience, that comes closest to bringing us into visceral proximity with the lives and plights of others.”

If we are to have transformation,

we will need to share who we really are,

with each other, in our political processes,

and with friends and strangers from around the world.

It’s hard to really see and hard to really share

who we really are.

We will need to bear true witness:

Who am I in relation to this and how do I speak

and act because of whom I am?

We need Brené Brown’s “raw, honest bid for connection”

with each other.

What is in my heart?

How will I bid for connection?

What is my witness as I bear witness?

I need not a gut check but a heart check.

Where is my heart?

I have to calm my fears of financial loss.

Get into strong community of people who care.

Find realistic desires for security,

not the overheated absolutes of a wealthy society

gone crazy with desire for guarantees and control.

I need to make sensible and soulful connections

with people from all around the world,

and learn how to take steps out of my

artificial middle-class umbrella

of nervous comfort.

So I don’t waste my precious, lovely days

just chasing vanishing dreams

of privilege and separation.

And for heaven’s sake,

I need to turn my starry eyes away

from the military might, bomb, bullet,

and drone show of the U.S.

My heart needs the jazz elegance

of Kind of Blue,

that gentle strong riff

of So What, rising like a question,

rising like a statement

and then dropping into the cool human-formed

walk, the way real people

walk in the real world.

We were in Colorado Springs on Wednesday

to celebrate a new banner project of

peace-witness Peter Sprunger-Froese.

The banner he holds up outside

military installations says:

Conscience bothering you about war?

Call the Mennonite Church.

And there’s a phone number…..

What witness will they get if they call the number?

Peter will answer

Good start.

Then what?

Are we a powerful community of love?

Will we share our lives, our treasure?

The new president of the South Baptist Convention said

We don’t look for salvation from the wings
of Air Force One

but from a cradle in a manger.

That’s ridiculous.

That’s a difficult perspective shift.

That turns us away from fear and force at our borders

and toward compassion and connection.

Our hearts will stay with children

not laws, and laws will be evaluated based on

how they touch the lives of children and people at risk.

Our strong solutions will be borne

on wings of creativity and mutual responsibility,

not domination and unilateral control.

That is, perhaps, so hard to really see.

But wow, is it beautiful.

Be transformed by the renewal of your minds.

May peace be with you, my friends.

“How shall we be grumpy: What if we are grieved, alarmed, not happy?”

Common time

June 10, 2018

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

©Vernon K. Rempel, 2018

Bible reading:

Mark 3:1-6

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Mark 3:31-35

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Marcos 3:31-35

Entonces llegaron su madre y sus hermanos, y quedándose afuera, mandaron llamarle. Y había una multitud sentada alrededor de El, y le dijeron: He aquí, tu madre y tus hermanos están afuera y te buscan. Respondiéndoles El, dijo: ¿Quiénes son mi madre y mis hermanos? Y mirando en torno a los que estaban sentados en círculo, a su alrededor, dijo: He aquí mi madre y mis hermanos. Porque cualquiera que hace la voluntad de Dios, ése es mi hermano y hermana y madre.

Start close in

“Not the people that’s been shoutin’

but it’s me O Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer.”

In my experience, real change,

the real seeds of new hope and courage,

start close in.

David Whyte writes:

Start right now

take a small step

you can call your own

don’t follow

someone else’s

heroics, be humble

and focused,

start close in,

don’t mistake

that other

for your own.

It’s always like the cloud

way up and over in the dry blue sky,

the cloud that’s only the size of a hand,

as in the story of Elijah, 1st Kings 18:44.

Now it grows. Now it is raining.

It starts so close, that we ourselves

don’t even notice it at first.

John O’Donohue writes:

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,

Where your thoughts never think to wander,

This beginning has been quietly forming,…

That’s where it starts,

the seed of the city of God

sown secretly in our

“out-of-the-way places.”

(The parable of the “seed sown secretly,

Mark 4:26-29)

It always starts close in,

in our most secret places,

then comes to our hearts and minds,

and so we become aware of change,

aware of our truth.

Then, if it is real, we must first

go to our loved ones,

those with whom we are most

tightly woven, and we must

be true and real with them.

Then, to allies and friends.

Then to the broader community.

Then to the world.

Global change starts locally,

very locally.

Jesus had his heart-to-heart

with the devil and God

in the wilderness.

Then he went to his hometown,

family and friends.

Then to Galilee and all Judea,

as the Bible reads – Matthew 4:25.

Jesus starts close in

So Jesus, in our Bible reading for today,

famously or infamously riffs on his own family.

“Who are my mother and brothers?”

I’ll tell you who. People who do the will of God.

Not necessarily these people, my family.

They could, but are they?

In this way, we can see that love

starts completely close in,

with my heart, myself, my family.

And so does differentiation.

Differentiation in family systems teaching

is not to be cut off from people

nor to be fused with people in total

alliance and agreement.

It is rather to be ready,

even with those closest to us,

to do the dance of love and care

which is true and real,

sometimes with, sometimes against,

sometimes alongside, sometimes at a distance.

In our passage today,

Jesus is grumpy,

even with his own family.

Jesus is willing to do

even the difficult close-in work.

He comes by it honestly.

His mother, when she heard

that she was pregnant,

sang out that now the rich and poor

would be reversed.

Now the hungry would eat,

and those with plenty would be hungry.

She had some grumpiness to express.

The withered hand

And so with Jesus.

In our passage,

it all begins with the man with the withered hand.

It’s the sabbath.

The religious rules would rather

follow rules, for the sake of rules,

for the sake of their positional authority,

rather than to care for somebody.

It’s the law, they said.

There’s nothing we can do.

So a man needs healing.

Can’t that wait for another day?

Jesus is grieved at their hardness of heart.

And he won’t have it.

So he heals the man.

Now the rulers want to come after him.

He’s shown them up for what they are,

cold and heartless rule followers.

And then his family shows up.

And they are apparently not sticking up for him.

In another part of the story, it reads:

When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ – Mark 3:21

And so we get our very upset Jesus.

“My people are those who do the will of God.

C’mon, people, can we do that?”

The airing of grievances

Now I want us to be like

grumpy Mary and grumpy Jesus

and to speak some of our complaints

about our culture and the state of things.

We have all had seeds of love

sown secretly in our hearts.

Now we want to heal the withered hands of the world.

What might we speak out about?

One of the most famous Seinfeld episodes

is where George’s dad announces

his own holiday: Festivus,

the festival for the rest of us.

It features feats of strength,

much like Jesus healing a withered hand,

that sort of thing,

a chance to show your own super powers,

whatever they may be.

And it features what is called

“the airing of grievances.”

So this is the airing of grievances.

Not personal things.

We’ll save those for other settings.

But let us name public things

for which we feel our hearts grieve.

In this public forum,

what public grievances do we have?

What grieves us?

What public things grieve us

perhaps because of who we are in our hearts?

In what ways are we, like Jesus and Mary, grumpy?

Naming our grievances…

(Eg. separating parents and children at the border.)

(pass the mic)

And now, let us pray together.

(Speak to healing, repair, restoration, hope.)

Prayer: We contend not against flesh and blood

Common time – Memorial Day weekend

May 27, 2018

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

& Mayflower Congregational Church

©Vernon K. Rempel, 2018

Bible reading: Ephesians 6:10-17

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Additional reading:

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love… Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.

–One location for this quotation is from the book A Testament of Hope from the essay “An Experiment in Love.”

http://www.cslewis.com/c-s-lewis-and-pacifism-a-failure-of-the-imagination/

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”[9]

–Martin Luther King Jr. (1967). Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?. p. 67.

Irises

Gratitudes to Mayflower

and to Beloved Mennonite

The last time I shared with

both our congregations,

I was digging dandelions in our yard.

I’m pleased to report that our

yard is largely dandelion free.

What we have now,

in abundance this year,

are irises (show picture on ipad).

What a year for lilacs, irises,

poppies, peonies, lemon lilies,

Jupiter’s beard, mountain bluets,

The theologian David Bentley Hart

says that God showers forth beauty

in infinite repetitions.

Remarkably, this Greek Orthodox theologian

then says, this is why Christians

are intended to be nonviolent.

It is because of the beauty

of God’s creation all around.

It may teach our hearts about God’s

intentions for us,

and how we are invited to perceive each other.

What happens when we seek always

the beauty in each other, no matter what,

no exceptions? What if our great work,

struggle, and creativity is to seek

that human and natural beauty?

To do so, says theologian Hart,

is the pathway of nonviolence,

of Christ’s peace.

It is, I would submit,

a powerful form of what

we call prayer.

And prayer is what we remember to do,

then in all things – “pray without ceasing” –

even in hard times, and in places

where we need to act and resist harm,

which is a thought for this Memorial Day weekend

when much of what is celebrated is resistance to harm.

Prayer

What is prayer?

How is it a form of resistance!

born out of attention to God’s

beautiful creation?

Derek Minno Bloom writes about his experience

joining the “Black Mesa Indigenous Support”.

The “Black Mesa Indigenous Support”

is a group that works in solidarity with Dineh (“Dee-nay”) elders

(the Dineh are also known as Navajo)

and community members

who have refused for over 40 years

to leave their ancestral homeland

at Black Mesa, Arizona,

located west of Canyon de Chelly.

He writes that he began working

with Dineh elders and community members

resisting settler colonialism

in the form of forced relocation and mining

by the US government and Peabody Energy.

At one time, he was attending a meeting

during what they were calling

No Thanks No Giving (aka “Thanksgiving”)

where more than 30 elders and

many more community members gathered.

The community was in favor of taking an action

against the coal mine,

but one elder said, “Action and protest are good.

We have done that before here.

[But] I am not sure if it will make things go away,

[and] I know we must have ceremony

as an act of resistance as well.

Prayer must be used as a form of resistance

and healing for us.”

Hearing this reminded him of the untold numbers

of prayers and ceremonies

performed on this land by its residents

for the last four decades

as they seek to block mine expansion

in an effort to protect

the sacred Big Mountain of Black Mesa.

He writes that the Dineh

never disconnect prayer from action;

in fact, it is impossible for them to do so.

He writes: “I was struck by how dualistic

I had become and how I had allowed

politics and science to colonize my mind and spirit.”

http://www.evangelicalsforsocialaction.org/compassion-and-justice/prayer-as-an-act-of-resistance/

Our reading from Ephesians declares:

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

That sounds like prayer-work to me.

In the story of the Dineh resistance

to mining on their ancestral lands,

the forces arrayed against them

are mighty, and are far more than blood and flesh.

They are forces of greed, white supremacy,

disrespect, neglect, cruelty,

willingness to cause harm and indignities

for the sake of financial gain.

So planning and strategy alone will not do it.

That is too often a pathway to bitterness

and even violence, when the struggle becomes hard.

As Bloom writes:

“I had allowed politics and science to colonize my mind and spirit.”

Of course there is a paradox here.

Because a common form of prayer takes no action,

and only sits privately in quietness

never finding a public voice against injustice.

But how remarkable when prayer is action

and action is prayer,

when there is the spiritual depth to organize

resistance such as blocking mining roads

but making the mode of that action prayer.

It is like singing “I love everybody”

while walking across the Edmund Pettis bridge

in Selma, Alabama to face the dogs,

night sticks and water cannons,

It is an intricately interwoven

way of engagement of prayer and action

that understands that political structures

and spiritual realities are also

all woven together.

So, for example, if we wish to

effectively address gun violence,

it will not do to simply create

a legal force to change laws.

That will sow seeds of bitterness

and resentment that will sprout up again.

We also will want to demonstrate

a deep love for all people

and that we will pray for

and with them.

We will go as far as we can to listen,

share, discuss and show

compassion for everyone,

no exceptions.

That’s tough, and it sounds like prayer work.

For the soul needs ceremony,

as the Dineh elder implied

in his call for prayer,

if we are going to do the truly hard work,

if we are going to do

“whatever will make us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace”

as our Ephesians passage says.

In this way, prayer is not merely

a private intellectual or emotional exercise.

It is a form of resistance in real

political work.

Paradoxically, prayer honors that fact

that we do not contend against blood and flesh,

and at the same time,

it is a way of showing up with our bodies,

with our flesh, in places that

we hope will matter for the sake of love and justice.

That is the depth of prayer and action.

Flesh

When I was in junior high

I thought it was funny that preachers

would talk about “flesh” in church.

I, of course, in my hormonal young state

would think about naked bodies,

and sit with my friends in the back

of the church and laugh,

hopefully mostly to myself,

but I’m afraid some of it may

have been expressed as unnecessary noise.

Junior high years are an awkward age.

At least for me, they certainly were.

But now I think there is something

very poignant about thinking of

the vulnerability of that very naked humanity

being placed in harm’s way

for the sake of love and justice.

To place our vulnerable bodies

wherever they are needed most.

This is an action of prayer

or a prayer in the form of action.

Such prayers lean into God’s loving arms

in places where resistance and public

declarations of healing and hope are sorely needed.

That is a prayer of the flesh

that knows that we do not struggle against

blood and flesh but against great spiritual powers.

War

On this Memorial Day weekend,

I would also extend this meditation

to questions of war.

In the long run, in the final analysis,

do bullets and bombs actually help us?

Or do they merely turn the wheel of violence

for another day, as Dr. King declares?

One possibility that I would invite us to consider

is that it has never been the bullets

of soldiers that have helped us,

but rather the courage of soldiers

that makes the difference.

Perhaps, if there has ever been any

long-lasting goodness

that has resulted from war-making,

it has been not bullets or bombs,

but instead the vulnerable courage of soldiers,

their willingness to give their lives

for a strong and good cause,

their readiness to forget themselves

for the sake of their brothers and sisters.

That is an astonishing gift.

In war, it is turned into killing other human beings.

But what if killing is a misreading

of how to use that courage?

What if we are not placed on this earth

to win, or survive, or to build wealth

or create family dynasties,

and to kill to protect them?

What if our true business on earth is as with

Marley and Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.”

Remember when Scrooge says to Marley

“You were always a good man of business?”

Marley shouts in reply:

“Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.”

If mankind, or humankind,

is our business, then I wonder

if bullets and bombs are getting it done,

or if rather they are in the way, a distraction,

a tragic, lethal, terrifying distortion.

What if humankind is our business?

What if charity, forbearance, benevolence

are our business?

These require courage, sacrifice,

and the willingness to lay down one’s life.

They may not be served by killing.

It is so confusing. It looks like killing gets stuff done.

But does it?

I wonder if we read history with an eye to

charity, forbearance, benevolence

and the courage to live those virtues,

if we don’t discover the true pathways of greatness.

These qualities have perhaps often been exhibited

by soldiers and also by citizens and pacifists.

In any case, is it not a wonder

when great courage is offered

without violence,

in a great act of compassion,

crossing boundaries to heal and to love?

For this, as the Dineh elder said,

we need ceremony.

For this, we need to seek

the beauty in all things,

as theologian Hart says.

We need courageous,

beautiful prayer.

A couple of weeks ago,

I was in Chicago, at a church

that is a community of five language groups,

an amazing sharing of lives and space

across lines of ethnicity that often divide us.

We shared food, reflections,

often translated in real time,

took tours of their neighborhood,

where their had been gang activity

and shootings.

In the worship service on Sunday,

we heard the Bible read in three languages,

some sharing about a need for healing,

and financial help.

And then they called up the Unity Choir.

The Unity Choir was all women,

mostly in the young adult range,

all of various African ethnicities

(two African languages are regularly

spoken there).

Beautifully dressed in the vivid colors

and great sweeps of cloth of

African cultural fashion.

Now all was quiet.

Then you heard just a bit of drumming

(imitate this).

Then the drumming began to find its voice.

And suddenly the women sang a few notes.

Then they let the drumming continue.

A jazz guitarist began to riff.

A bit of keyboard.

And then the wondrous rain of voices began to fall.

Strong lines were stated.

But the choruses brought it home,

brought it to us,

crossed waters and continents

to sing God’s love.

Everyone was dancing.

We even had a conga line

around the church.

It was ecstatic.

It was prayer.

It was beauty inviting us to meet the

strange other not in violence

but in God’s own beauty.

It was a prayer and action

in a neighborhood where

violence had taken the streets.

It was, I think,

what happens when great courage

is offered in the form of nonviolence

and beauty.

It was, as Dr. King said,

meeting the forces of hate

with the power of love.

What Ephesians calls the gospel of peace,

what is the incredible power of prayer.

Amen.

Peace be with you
Easter 3
April 15, 2018
For Beloved Community Mennonite Church
©Vernon K. Rempel, 2018

Bible reading: Luke 24:36b-48
Reader 1: Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Reader 2: They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.

Reader 3: He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself.

Reader 2: Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

Reader 1: And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

Reader 2: While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”

Reader 3: They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

 

Reader 2: Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”

Reader 1: Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them,

Reader 2: “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Reader 3: You are witnesses of these things.

 

Additional reading:
The peace of Christ make fresh my heart;
how can I keep from singing?
from My life flows on, blue hymnal 580

 

The Dandelion reading
We have been digging dandelions
for the last week or two.
Constant vigilance!
One needs to go out in the yard
every day and look.

If you see one, there are ten.
Keep looking.
Do not try to dig the non-blooming ones too much.
The dandelions of today are trouble enough.
Leave tomorrow’s dandelions for tomorrow.
The dandelion paraphrase of Jesus’ parable.

We know they’re edible.
But we’re not eating them.
And if you let them go,
soon all you have everywhere is dandelions!
And we don’t want to use poison.
So we dig. It’s a form of meditation.

Dandelions really mess with another
parable of Jesus – the one about the seeds:
Sower went out to sow:
Some seeds fell on rocky ground, on the path,
only some fell on good soil, etc.

With dandelions, it’s rocky soil,
don’t mind if I do!
The path – great place to grow.
Tiny crack between pavers
never watered and fried by the sun?
Sure, send down a tap root!
Multiplied a hundred fold every time!

 

That’s the dandelion-allegorical method
of reading the Bible.
Reading the text from the perspective of dandelions.

 

Lectio Divina
In traditional monastic Bible study,
there are four ways or four levels
for reading a Bible text.
(Karen Armstrong talks about this in her book The Bible)

The four are:
Literal – the words on the face of it.
Plain text reading of what’s there.

Moral – meaning for how we live
(you’d think this was enough)

Allegorical – how’s it relate to the Christ story?
The classic way was to relate every text
to Jesus Christ – the Christian connection, if you will.
Allegory could be used to relate the text
to any another key text – thus the dandelion reading.

Mystical – the union with God reading
through meditation on the text.

 

Literal
The literal reading of this text
will take time to note some details.
Jesus says “Peace be with you” to his friends.

They’re at the sea.
They’re terrified, as with most of the
resurrection appearances of Jesus.

He eats fish, because he’s real.
and he tells them that death and resurrection
is the way of things, and to demonstrate
this everywhere for everyone.

That’s the literal summary. Now let’s keep reading the other levels.

 

Moral
“Beginning from Jerusalem”
Start close to home.
Think globally but act locally.

David Whyte has a great poem in this regard:
Start Close In
From his book River Flow: New and Selected Poems

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To hear
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice

becomes an
intimate
private ear
that can
really listen
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

 

“You are witnesses of these things.”
We are the people we have been waiting for.
If you want to see love somewhere,
put love there,
and you will find love.

Could say more, but that
gives us some moral direction.

 

 

Allegorical
Let’s call this reading “Flesh and terror.”
Eating some fish
terror again, as with the Marys in the garden
terror, or puzzlement, or non-recognition

It could be a literary ploy
to make the resurrection believable.
But it also sounds kind of right.
We’d all likely be shocked and terrified
if a loved one started walking around again.

I’m not going to make an argument for bodily resurrection,
except to say, we do well to keep an open mind,
especially for things that seem to want
to make for peace in a world
too acquainted with violence.

Speaking of terror,
Toni Morrison has her great book Beloved.
I’ve only seen the movie,
which was horrifying, disturbing
in a way that made your flesh crawl.

This summary from “grade saver” website:
The horrifying effects of slavery on the family unit are clear. Baby Suggs [grandmother] seems scarcely able to feel love for her relations, numb from a lifetime of loved ones being taken from her. The men, including Paul D, are wanderers, drifting from place to place. Now, Sethe is in the first generation of blacks that can bear children without those children being torn away from her. But Sethe’s family life is still haunted by [a] dead child and the memories of slavery.
http://www.gradesaver.com/beloved/study-guide/summary-part-one-chapters-1-4

Junot Díaz, in writing about his life-long trauma from being raped
when he was 8, quotes Morrison’s book Beloved. He writes:
“Toni Morrison wrote, ‘Anything dead coming back to life hurts.’ In Spanish we say that when a child is born it is given the light. And that’s what it feels like to say the words, X—. Like I’m being given a second chance at the light.”
The New Yorker, 4-16-18
http://nyer.cm/rrZari5

X — stands for saying what happened to him.
Speaking that truth fells like being given
a second chance at the light, says Díaz.

The resurrection story is surely,
if anything,
a story about a second chance
at the light.

Rape, murder of loved ones, attempted murder against us
all are the most terrible traumas
which can also make us present to
all levels of trauma among us and in our lives.
Sexual assault, violent words, ill intention, manipulations.

We all need so much healing.
And we can offer it to each other,
by the simple device of staying available
to each other day after day.

And offering love the best we can,
over and over and over.
“Love, love, love.
Laugh and weep and act for that
which you are discovering
that you love so much.”
One of the Touchstones we read on Thursday evenings
every week.

We do not get rid of trauma.
That’s a misnomer – it’s always with us,
becomes part of our story.
But we fold it into love.
We may fold it into love.
We may fold it into love.

 

Mystical
Finally there is the mystical reading.
For me, the mystical reading of this text
come to that one resonant phrase:
“Peace be with you”

Peace be with you – it’s the resurrection greeting.
It’s for everybody, not only as individuals,
but as economies, as nations.
“repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations”

It’s about human hearts
but about human hearts
connected by economies and by war.
Before his death and resurrection,
whatever that all was,
Jesus was approaching Jerusalem
and he was overcome.

Luke 19:41-44 NRSV
“As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

Whatever is going on here,
it’s about peace,
powerful, all-transforming peace of Christ,
the God of peace.

We imagine we can’t get on
without forcing each other with lethal force.

Even our marriages are
at the point of a gun,
meaning they have legal force,
and anything with legal force,
can involve police with guns,
and forcible incarceration.

And legislative advocacy
we need good laws
we also need to think about
what it means that when I get a good law
I can force you to abide by it.

This is an seedbed for a lot
of violence, I think.

And we imagine that we must kill each other
for the sake of our nations.

All nations believe this, as far as I can tell.
Which asks a question about what a nation is, for one thing.
And it asks a question about what kind of power
do we need to live as human beings
in communal situations.

“Peace be with you.”
It echoes through the ages.

This is a mystical “peace” reading of the text.
Let’s try saying “peace be with you”
just as a final lectio divina.

And then I will offer sentences on what we might do,
and a closing blessing.

Pass mic to say “peace be with you”
in many voices and intonations.

 

What to do?
This last bit of reading could be called the “action” reading,
surely implicit in the other four, but here made plain, perhaps.

—U.S. could start funding & developing non-lethal weapons; like the LAPD, of all organizations, which has devoted significant time and money to developing non-lethal weapons.
(Annals of Technology, The New Yorker June 2, 2008 “Non-lethal Force: Looking for ways to stop violent criminals, without killing them. By Alec Wilkinson
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/06/02/non-lethal-force

—Take the punishment out of our prisons & vocabulary, including removing the death penalty which more and more clearly looks simply like state-sponsored revenge, and prison sentences designed to scare and harm, rather than reform & restore. We’re supposed to be operating correctional facilities, not punishment facilities.

—Read studies like Gene Sharp’s magisterial 3 volumes on non-violent response, which I have on the welcome table for you to look at.

—Study, extend, deepen the work of restorative justice, which seeks real, substantive, compassionate healing work wherever relationships are torn by violence, crime, trauma.

Just four ideas out of many others.

Peace be with you.
Peace can be with us.
Peace was, is and will be with us.
Amen.

“Calling out; calling in”

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

January 14, 2018

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

©Vernon K. Rempel

Bible reading: John 1:43-51

Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Additional reading:

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.

Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take “everyone on Earth” to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires … causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both, are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.

Excerpt from “Letter to a Young Activist During Troubled Times” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PH.D. © 2003 C.P. Estes

Better race conversation needed

On this MLK weekend, we continue to stumble

and struggle with race.

We have said in the past two generations,

that we want to be judged

not by the color of our skin

but by the content of our character,

to quote Dr. King.

We have made affirmations:

Black is beautiful

Black like me

Black power,

now… Black lives matter.

These are lovely, strong affirmations.

But now from the Oval Office,

race-related vulgarity erupts.

Our president, by all accounts,

is currently making our race conversation more difficult,

more fraught, more filled with concern and doubt.

A sufficient number of people, it seems,

we’re more willing to vote anti-abortion,

than to worry as much about

statements about Mexican immigrants and so on.

These are people we know and love.

We may not consider ourselves better people than them.

But it disturbs, puzzles. We get angry

with others and ourselves.

Because it is never only others,

never only the president.

Our race conversation desperately needs to be better.

We our tearing our hearts out.

We need to make it a grand and compassionate priority.

What is it like to wake up in skin of color

in our culture right now?

I heard on NPR last month that women of color

are likely to die in child-birth than light-skinned women,

because of daily stress, daily indignities and insults,

small though they may be.

“Black expectant and new mothers in the U.S. die at about the same rate as women in countries such as Mexico and Uzbekistan, the World Health Organization estimates.”

“Black women are more likely to be uninsured outside of pregnancy, when Medicaid kicks in, and thus more likely to start prenatal care later and to lose coverage in the postpartum period. They are more likely to have chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension that make having a baby more dangerous. The hospitals where they give birth are often the products of historical segregation, lower in quality than those where white mothers deliver, with significantly higher rates of life-threatening complications.

“Those problems are amplified by unconscious biases that are embedded in the medical system, affecting quality of care in stark and subtle ways. In the more than 200 stories of African-American mothers that ProPublica and NPR have collected over the past year, the feeling of being devalued and disrespected by medical providers was a constant theme.”

“But it’s the discrimination that black women experience in the rest of their lives — the double whammy of race and gender — that may ultimately be the most significant factor in poor maternal outcomes.”

“”It’s chronic stress that just happens all the time — there is never a period where there’s rest from it. It’s everywhere; it’s in the air; it’s just affecting everything,” said Fleda Mask Jackson, an Atlanta researcher who focuses on birth outcomes for middle-class black women.”

https://www.npr.org/2017/12/07/568948782/black-mothers-keep-dying-after-giving-birth-shalon-irvings-story-explains-why

These notes call us out, call our culture out.

We may feel shame, fatigue, despair

at ever doing better.

What shall we do?

The phrase “call out” may come

from the French word “provoquer,”

recorded first in 1823,

with the meaning to call out to fight.

This was a regular occurrence in my middle school.

“Want to take it outside?”

Usually there was no follow-through

on this aggressive question.

But I remember fairly regular fist-fights

taking place in the adjacent park.

All of which is to say,

calling each other out on race

may not be the path forward.

We need to hear the hard stuff,

and then call each other in.

Jesus calls followers and friends

In our gospel reading for today,

Jesus is putting together some friends and allies

for the struggle, for the walk,

for the practices of healing and love.

Phillip just goes with it, when Jesus says “follow me.”

But then he goes to Nathanael, who needs convincing,

voicing the old prejudice about Jesus’ small-town upbringing;

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth.”

Jesus amazes him by saying that he saw him

under the fig tree, before Phillip even approached him.

It is a feat of social observation – I saw you –

I see you; you are human to me.

Jesus says that you’re going to see a lot more than that.

We’re talking about angels from heaven.

Which is surely a political-spiritual statement:

You’re going to see the world change, my friend.

Jesus is calling people “in” to his friendship,

not calling them out.

He doesn’t take offense at Nathanael

but keeps working with him until

Nathanael is willing to explore the walk with Jesus.

The notion of “calling in” is articulated by Ngọc Loan Trần (roughly pronounced “Nawkp lwahn Duhn,” in his article:

Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable, 12/18/13.

He notes: “I started having conversations on this practice of “calling in” after attending Race Forward’s Facing Race Conference in Baltimore, MD in 2012.”

https://www.humanityinaction.org/files/567-N.Trn-CallingIN.pdf

It’s a way of considering how not to trash “the other”

but rather a commitment and intention

to stay with them in hard conversation.

As we say in the Courage and Renewal work,

“When the going gets rough, turn to wonder.”

I wonder what she or he is bringing to the conversation?

What is their life like?

What did they feel when they woke up this morning?

It’s not a pathway of surrender or victory.

It’s a pathway of engagement, struggle, encounter,

and holds open the possibility of new understanding.

My facilitator colleague Susan Kaplan has developed

a Courage and Renewal “Touchstone” based

on this insight:

Calling in instead of calling someone out.  We all make mistakes by saying something we don’t realize may be offensive or uncomfortable to someone else. Hold love in your heart as you share your own experience and curiosity as you learn and receive a different truth that may be in the room.  Lead from your heart.

This is a critical understanding for our race conversation.

We’re going to make mistakes. It’s going to be a mess.

But we can stay in it, and see if we can begin

to see each other, as Jesus “saw” Nathanael.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes offers a wonderful description

for how we may call each other in.

“Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.”

It is not a matter of being “nice.”

This is not the Sunday School “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam.”

She writes:

“To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both, are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.”

This sentence has the word “fierce” in it and “necessity,”, as well as “mercy.”

We will need to represent the way of love,

the insistence of the way of love to refuse harm

to self, others, and our enemies,

and to seek more creative paths,

paths of moral imagination,

imagination and creativity, not “all they understand is….”

or the old “those people…” or “you people….”

Black lives matter.

This next part in Spanish and then in English:

Los ciudadanos de Mexico son posiblemente hermanas y hermanos –

The citizens of Mexico are possibly sisters and brothers.

We may learn to call each other in

from a young Vietnamese writer.

So, in this instance, we may walk like Jesus walked,

like Dr. King walked, when he said “we need strength to love.”

Not strength to win, but strength to love.

Calling each other “in.”

“Magi: Gifts against empire”

First Sunday after the Epiphany

January 7, 2018

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

©Vernon K. Rempel

Bible reading: Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Cards against humanity

In my limited experience,

“Cards against humanity” is a profane game,

intended to subvert people by forcing them,

in the course of the game,

to profanity, rude statements, embarrassment.

The magi, the three wise ones from the east,

play another game:

Gifts against empire,

In which the players attempt

to subvert empire with beauty.

Herod brings death;

we three kings bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

David Bentley Hart, the Greek Orthodox theologian

who grew up meditating on gorgeous icons

in Greek worship,

argues that the form or shape or manner

of the Christian gospel

is beauty

Beauty against ugliness

beauty against distortions, imbalances,

inequalities, isolations, all breaking and damaging.

Beauty against the death of the empire.

Like the poet April Bernard writes

in her poem “What would happen then.”

“A bird, bright and quick,

blue with livid streaks

would arrive on the windowsill

as official harbinger

And then,

the low would be raised up

the sneers crushed under their own bricks.”

As theologian Hart says

it is beauty that overcomes

dominating, destructive power.

And he says that God has not

created a world where the beauty

is limited or hard to discover.

It is all around us like manna on the ground.

And as another poet, David Whyte says,

Everything is waiting for you.

All the birds and creatures of the world

are unutterably themselves.

Out down the weight of your aloneness

and enter into the conversation.

Enter into the beauty,

the beauty of love.

God’s world is not intended for ugliness and death

but for beauty that breaks open our hearts.

Matthew

The introduction to the gospel of Matthew in the

Oxford Annotated Bible says that,

“His view of the world is highly polarized. One either walks according to Jesus’ “way of righteousness” and produces spiritual fruit, or one does not. For Matthew, the consequences of this decision are momentous: the coming judgment will be swift, unexpected, and inexorable.”

Oxford Annotated Bible loc. 1746 (introduction to Matthew)

So, for example, The beauty of the dawn or the sunset

on most days in the high-altitude west:

The pinks and the oranges fade in and out

with astonishing speed and also astonishing beauty,

shining out framed by the most intense

and remarkable continuum of blues and deep purples.

Matthew might say, we fail to honor the beauty of the world at our peril

As David Whyte would say “Everything is waiting for us…..”

And if we miss it, then we’ve missed it.

Then we go to bed without seeing

the deep cerulean blue of a Colorado sunset.

(sound this poem note throughout, and then end with full poem, with drum??)

The magi: with gifts, they enter the conversation.

They put down the weight of aloneness

and enter in with gifts for the beauty of the Christ

who is the personification of God’s beauty for all.

Empire

Perhaps you saw the internet story about

the first and second grade teacher.

He liked to put puzzles on the board

for the children to solve.

The puzzle this time was a riddle:

I am the beginning of everything

the end of everywhere

I’m the beginning of eternity,

the end of time and space.

What am I?

Reading this, one of the children

solemnly answered “death.”

A reflectively hush fell over the room.

The teacher now didn’t have the heart

to inform the class that

the answer was the letter ‘E.”

We have two fat Christmas birds in our tree.

They’re my favorites,

hanging there in contentment,

ready for winter.

They’re under-bellies sparkle with glitter,

lit by the strands of LED lights

that have replaced the older Christmas lighting schemes

of candles in the 1800s – very flammable –

and then incandescents in the 1900s –

using much more electricity and much less reliable.

So now the birds sparkle in brilliant, cool light,

like the light of winter stars

cooly shining in the light-years of space.

I have seem the underbelly of the empire,

and unfortunately it sparkles too.

But like the game “Cards against humanity,”

it is a profane distortion, a distortion

of the beauty of the birds on our tree.

“Cards against humanity” is for fun.

But the empire is for death.

We need gifts against empire.

We need the wisdom of three wise astrologers

who saw the star of beauty –

star of wonder, star of light, –

and followed it.

But the only thing empire ultimately has for us is death.

Fear of death, death as sanction, solution, stock in trade.

War, death penalty, guns for killing,

obsession with the power of killing, of death.

The empire sparkles with promises of happiness,

through accumulation, keeping, holding.

This is worth fighting and killing for.

It is worth rejecting immigrants and neglecting refugees.

But it’s really about death.

Let this be a sign unto you.

A white pick-up shall appear from the south,

driving up from Walsenburg toward a Pueblo.

It shall be a Ford F-150,

and the family shall be six,

with the smallest child only four months old,

offering smiles to all she sees.

Learning to meet and to love them

will be your salvation, O America.

This will be your true business.

As Charles Dickens written in A Christmas Carol:

“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Empire obsesses about trade, about accumulation.

Empire offers this as death,

sparkling, appealing appearance, but death nonetheless.

Empire thinks that is it’s business,

when in reality humanity is it’s business.

The gospel of the magi offers beauty

and in so doing, honors life,

offers life, makes life its business,

makes humanity its business.

David Bentley Hart would say, that is beauty.

April Bernard would say

when the blue bird arrives,

the sneers will be crushed under their own bricks.

David Whyte would add,

So put down the weight of your aloneness.

Matthew might add – put down the weight

of the deathliness of Herod, of empire,

of superiority and accumulation,

and bring gifts for the Christ, gifts against empire,

gifts for beauty.