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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.

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.

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.

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.