Sermon: The Fourth Day

Earlier this week, I was on my weekly morning walk with my friend when — for some reason — we began talking about plastic flowers. I think it was because the Beverly’s crafts store had closed down in Alameda several months ago, and we were regretting not having a fabric store in town anymore and then we got curious about who bought all of those plastic flowers that took up the entire front part of the store. I told my friend of all the folks I know back home who buy plastic flowers and said they would have been able to keep Beverly’s in business.

“But my Mom,” I continued, “she never liked plastic flowers. Instead, she grew her own flowers that she dried and made into arrangements. And she got so good at it that she started her own dried flower business called Bev’s Everlastings.” “That’s so cool,” my friend said. “How did she preserve the flowers?” “I don’t know,” I said. “I have no idea.” And just like that…. my grief hit. I realized, in that instant, that I will never know how my Mom dried her flowers. Because I can’t ask her. Because she died four years ago. Such a simple question for which there will never be an answer. 

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Sermon: The Isness of Mennonites

A sermon preached by Thomas Merton (as channelled by Pat Plude) at First Mennonite Church of San Francisco. For a link to this sermon with footnotes, please click here.  

Introduction by Sheri Hostetler:  A few years back, we did a series that resonated with many of you on the archetypes of the warrior, monk and mystic. We said that while we may gravitate toward one of these archetypes, to be a faithful follower of Jesus, we ultimately need to embody all of them. Thomas Merton has long been one of my spiritual teachers because he did faithfully embody all of them. He was literally a monk, a Trappist monk, at Gethsamani Abbey in Kentucky. He was a mystic with a deep connection to the Source of life, which he experienced in prayer and ritual but also in nature and music. And he was a prophet. Without leaving his Abbey, he became a powerful public prophet, speaking out against the war in Vietnam and militarism and violence in general and standing up on behalf of racial equality.

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Feelings List

During our “Speaking the Truth in Love” series, we talked about the importance of sharing our feelings rather than our thoughts (or judgments) when speaking our truth. It is sometimes difficult to figure out the two, however! This Feelings List from the Bay Area Nonviolent Communication chapter can be very helpful with that. You can find out more about their work at www.baynvc.org. The List is used with permission.

Education Hour: Saying What You Mean

Much of this content comes from a course on “Mindful Communication” taught by Oren Jay Safer. Much of it will be in his book, Say What You Mean, which will be released in December.Intro:

Don’t try to internalize all this information — you can’t all at once. Take the one piece that really makes sense to you and run with it. Obviously, in the flow of a conversation we’re not able to think through all this. But the purpose of doing this is to train. Just like we do with any other task. 

Quote: “Under duress, we do not rise to our expectations, but fall to our level of training.”  (Bruce Lee)

When we are trying to learn how to play an instrument, we slow things down — we play scales, we learn the fingering.  All this is meant to give you a structure to practice with when you have the time and space. It develops your capacity to do it in real life within the flow of a conversation.

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Sermon: Speaking the Truth

This the final sermon in our Back to the Basics series called “Speaking the Truth in Love.” Stefan and Jacob, two members of our community, role played conflictual situations throughout this sermon.

So, we have started with ourself in this series. We have looked at our conflict styles. We talked about the importance of being present when in conflict so that we can access the wisdom of our emotions and our senses and our neofrontal cortex. We have cautioned against jumping over the net to tell stories about the other person’s motivations and intentions. And then last Sunday, Pat and Joanna talked about the “listening” aspect of speaking the truth in love — how to make space for and receive someone else’s truth. Finally, on this last Sunday of a series called “Speaking the Truth in Love,” we get to speak.

But what should we say? What do we really want to communicate? What is authentically true for us — and what is going to give us the best chance of getting our needs met?  Our first impulse in a charged situation is often to speak out of our reactivity. For instance, our impulse might be to spew our emotions and initial judgements:

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Education Hour: Transformative Listening

Most of this content comes from a course on “Mindful Communication” taught by Oren Jay Safer. Much of it will be in his book, Say What You Mean, which will be released in December.

To come from curiosity and care, to understand, means to be able to listen. It feels good to be listened to! To be heard. This is absolutely universal. Listening is usually where the bottleneck happens in a conversation. It’s not in the fluency or skill of our speech. Listening well can take us really far in a conversation. If we really know how to listen, we can help clean up a mess or de-escalate a conversation.

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Sermon: Transformational Listening

By Pat Plude, with Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Mark 7:24-30

Today we depart temporarily from the Ephesians passage we have been using throughout this series, to look at a time when Jesus demonstrates his humanity by speaking to a woman in a particularly snarky way! Using the story of the Syrophonecian woman in the Gospel of Mark, we will look more deeply at the practice of listening, another crucial component of learning to speak truth in love. As we go you’ll hear several voices and stories: those of the Syrophonecian Woman and Jesus, as well as my own and Joanna’s.

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Education Hour: Strengthening Healthy Intentions and Attention

Most of this content comes from a course on “Mindful Communication” taught by Oren Jay Safer. Much of it will be in his book, Say What You Mean, which will be released in December.

Intention is the motivation or inner quality of heart behind our words and actions. Where we’re coming from in a dialogue is going to determine where things go.  We can say the same words with very different intentions.

Intention is not: I want to get there on time. That’s a goal. Intention is where we are coming from inside, rather than a specific outcome or goal. Our intention determines the way the conversation is going to go — perhaps even more than the actual words I’m using. There’s a big difference in the quality of my conversation with my husband when we are in conflict if I come into the conversation with an intention of trying to restore connection between us than when I come into the conversation with an intention of blaming him or judging him or “making him see the light.”  If our intention is off, other people feel it. They can tell if we are coming in with an intention that’s perhaps unconsciously set on blame or judgement or control or subtle coercion or defensiveness. They can also feel it if we come into a conversation with the intention to understand or another healthy intention like openness or collaboration or patience.

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Sermon: Do Not Make Room for the Devil

This the third sermon in our Back to the Basics series called “Speaking the Truth in Love.” Chris and Ann, two members of our community, role played conflictual situations throughout this sermon. 

Ephesians 4 (selections)

So, before we dive into this topic of “not making room for the devil,” I want to do a quick review of where we’ve been up until now. At retreat, we looked at different conflict styles, which are based on the fight, flight and freeze response that gets activated when we are under stress. These are biological, hard-wired responses, as Kevin Graber so helpfully reminded us. We said that all of these responses to conflict may be called for at times, so we’re not placing a value judgment of “bad” on them. 

But in this series, we are trying on another response to conflict, one that is less biological, hard-wired reaction than learned response. We’re calling it “speaking the truth in love,” and it’s a combination of both authenticity and care; speaking our truth with care and respect for the other person. Indeed, I believe this learned response — speaking the truth in love — is a spiritual discipline, one that we are called to as followers of Jesus. I also believe it is one of the most powerful and transformative spiritual disciplines we can learn. Like any discipline, any skill, it’ll take some time to learn it and we’ll need to practice it. And we will get better, over time, at it if we do.

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Education Hour: Leading with Presence

Our “Back to the Basics” series this year is “Speaking the Truth in Love.” During our Education Hours, we are focussing on building skill and capacity for having difficult conversations.

This first Education Hour delves into the skill of “Leading with Presence.” I heard of some difficulties people were having with the content of this Education Hour, and so I’m also including some further clarifications about that presentation below. If you have difficulties with any presentation or sermon, please let us know! We can’t learn and grow as a community unless the “shared pool of meaning” is enlarged by all of our feedback. 

Also… Throughout this series, we are mostly referring to situations where we are in conflict with people with whom we already have a relationship of some trust and safety — a spouse, a sister, a parent, a good friend, and (we hope) people within this community. In fact, one of the impetuses for doing this series is to build skill around “speaking the truth in love” within this community.  Though many of these “speaking the truth in love” principles and practices might also apply to conversations with people with whom we have less trust or safety or where there is a large difference in power, we are not primarily referring to these sorts of conversations within this series.

In last Sunday’s Education Hour, I defined “presence” as an “embodied awareness of our direct sensory, mental, and emotional experience.” When we are present, we are better able to stay in the room when conversations get heated and not spin off into “fight, flight or freeze” responses. (See the “Conflict Styles” blog post.) We are also able to be more aware of the wisdom of our senses, emotions and intellect, which gives us more information about ourselves and others and also gives us more choice about how we respond. The more present I am able to be when conflict arises, the better I am able to be authentic to my truth and also be open to the other person’s experience. Read more

Sermon: The Wisdom and Limits of Emotions

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Excerpts from Ephesians 4

Thank you Diego, for that reading. I wish we would had time to hear the entire chapter of Ephesians 4 because it’s chock full of wisdom for discipleship. Paul was writing to the Ephesians as a prisoner due to his association with Jesus’ revolutionary movement. He was writing to the Ephesians who were a largely Gentile community and therefore experiencing more social privilege than he was as a Jewish person in the Roman empire.

He was calling them to ethical living which was personal, communal and political. “The calling to which they had been called” as the church was to deep personal and political maturity. “To grow up” the text says “into Christ.” As a part of Jesus’ movement they were called to be, as Ched Myers puts it, “a social experiment in reconciliation between ethnically, politically and culturally alienated groups.”

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Sermon: The Case for Conflict

This is the first sermon in our Back to the Basics series on “Speaking the Truth in Love.”

Ephesian 4 (selections)

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting at the dinner table with your mother, son, uncle, partner, friend, co-worker… let’s just settle for partner in this example. (This example is adapted from the book Caring Enough to Confront: How To Transform Conflict with Compassion and Grace by David Augsburger):

The kids are acting up at dinner, clearly driving you crazy. 

Chris: I’m so sick of this. I can’t take it anymore. Sit down. Shut up. Eat your dinner. How many times do I have to tell you that?”

Ann:  Smooth move, Dad. Just like your father.

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