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
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.”
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.
This information was presented at our annual retreat on Saturday morning. It is from Oren Jay Safer’s online course “Mindful Communication” and, mostly, David Augsburger’s book, Caring Enough to Confront: How to Transform Conflict with Compassion and Grace.
When the going gets tough, we tend to default to habitual conflict styles based on a “fight, flight or freeze” response to stress. All of these conflict styles have their place; they are not necessarily “wrong.” But, in this series we are trying to increase our repertoire of responding to conflict by getting beyond our habitual styles and learning how to “speak the truth in love.”
Competitive confrontation or “I’ll get them.” This correlates with the “fight” stress response. In this style we push full steam ahead with aggressive behavior. We are not really willing to do dialogue. In our mind, someone is clearly right (us) and someone is clearly wrong (you), and it’s my duty to put you right. We’re pushing for our own way so much that we can’t see or are unwilling to see another’s point of view. Examples of this are plastered all over social media, the comments section of the Internet, and talking head talk shows on cable. In this style, we attempt to meet our own needs at any cost, through control, dominance or coercion. Read more
I Kings 8: 1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43
Just as there are fundamental physical laws of the universe — like “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” — there are fundamental political laws. Like: when a people feel threatened — whether that’s because they’re struggling economically or there’s lots of social change or because they feel unsafe, due to crime or acts of terrorism— they will often look for a scapegoat. When we get frightened, we start looking suspiciously at anyone who seems “other.” This is why it can be so scary to be an ethnic or racial or religious minority, or an lgbtq person, or a woman during bad times. Just ask anyone who was a Muslim living in this country after 9/11. Or ask any immigrant from Mexico right now.
This sermon was part of our church’s response to Mennonite Church USA’s request that congregations interact with the Renewed Commitments document and provide feedback to the denomination. We also met during adult Education Hour to discuss the document.
I admit that I wasn’t feeling it when the Mennonite Church USA — the denomination of which we are a member – asked congregations to provide feedback on these Renewed Commitments that you just heard. This is a bit of a Pavlovian response for me. I hear the words “Mennonite Church USA” and I instantly tune out. This comes from years of feeling like I or those I love were being marginalized by the denomination — our voices discounted, our pain not acknowledged, our insights not welcomed. It comes from years of listening to church pronouncements or reading church documents that seem so vague and lukewarm and middle ground that I just instantly turn off my brain when another one comes along because I don’t expect anything real or relevant to come from them. For too many years, it seemed to me that leadership didn’t want to honestly address the conflicts tearing the church apart, and so we avoided issues in the name of “respectful dialogue.” This ended up making both progressives and conservatives angry and unhappy.
Selection from Hebrews 9-10
When my Mom was dying, I would sing hymns to her. Her church didn’t use the blue hymnal we use, so I would sing from the “red hymnal,” the one that came before the blue hymnal. I would start at the front and begin singing the hymns I remembered from growing up: “Holy God, we praise thy name.” And “Come thou almighty king.” She liked those front-of-the-book hymns okay, but after a few of them she would indicate, with a small flick of her finger (since she couldn’t speak by this point) that I was to continue paging through to the back of the hymnal where the “Gospel Songs” section began.
These were the old-time hymns she particularly loved. Truth to be told, these are some of my favorite hymns, too. Please sing along if you know them: “I know that my Redeemer liveth and on the earth again shall stand.” And “Oh Lord, my God! When I awesome wonder, consider all the worlds thy hands have made.” However, there were many hymns in that Gospel Songs section that were… less favorites of mine. These are the ones I call the “bloody hymns,” the ones focussed on how the blood of Jesus saves us. One of my Mom’s favorites was “Marvelous Grace.” I won’t sing it — although I bet some of you can — but I will read its first two verses and chorus because it summarizes so well the theology of “blood atonement”:
A sermon given by guest preachers Ched Myers and Elaine Enns on July 29, 2018 (tenth Sunday after Pentecost).
Elaine: Ched and I are delighted to be with you all this weekend, celebrating the wedding of Pastor Joanna and Eric yesterday, and this morning having the opportunity to circle around the Word here at First Mennonite. We join with you in blessing the newlyweds in their life and ministry together. We bring greetings from Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, and small gifts expressing our solidarity with two issue for which we share deep concerns with you: Watershed Discipleship and Indigenous Justice.
When Joanna invited us to speak this morning, she encouraged us to sing as well as preach, so we are mixing in a few songs. We would like to open this morning’s theme with a call and response song that we learned from the Wilderness Way Community in Portland, Oregon.
Song: “Come Gather Round”
Come gather round my friends
Welcome everyone, To the wilderness
Come you who hunger, Hunger for justice
Welcome everyone, To the wilderness
Sabbath and jubilee
Welcome everyone, To the wilderness
By Joanna Shenk
A few weeks ago I was in northern Indiana for a Shenk family reunion with Eric and the kids. It was the first time I had seen some of my extended Shenk family in a couple years. We had a lot of fun playing games in intergenerational groups, like kickball, super big boggle and ultimate frisbee.
One thing that I love about my Shenk family is our storytelling. My grandpa Shenk (who is passed on) and his four children constantly tell stories about us when we’re together. It could be stories of when I was a kid and the funny things I’d do. Or stories about my uncles and aunt when they were kids. Or stories about ancestors further back. Whatever the conversation, it often ends with the recollection of a family story.
This kind of storytelling instilled in me a strong sense of identity when I was young and carries through today. I know who my family is and what they value and I know what it means to carry on that identity. Through the work of differentiation I am also able to decide how I want to carry on that legacy in a way that’s authentic to my journey.
Mark 4:26-34, Ezekiel 17:22-24
Every young kid growing up during Jesus’ time would have been familiar with the prophecy from Ezekiel that Diego just read. Our kids recite Kendrick Lamar lyrics; those kids recited this prophecy — that God was going to take this small, vulnerable group of people and make something great of them. In the Bible, political kingdoms are often likened to trees or branches, so the people of Israel are the tender sprig from the top of the lofty cedar that God is going to plant on a high mountain. No longer would they be easily and often invaded, at the mercy of the massive superpowers surrounding them. Not only would be they be self-governing, autonomous, free – they would be more than that. They would be beacons of hope to others of the goodness of life lived under God’s reign. They would like be a noble cedar planted on a mountain that bore fruit and provided shelter for many creatures. Ezekiel’s’ stirring prophecy with that stirring image ends with these stirring words: I the Lord have spoken; I will accomplish it.
But almost 600 years later, God’s promise still has not been fulfilled. The people of Israel have lived under a series of oppressive regimes. Throughout the centuries, revolutionaries and small armies have risen up, had small victories against these oppressors, but no one has been completely successful. Throughout the centuries, the people of Israel have tried to be faithful – tried to keep the commandments, tried to keep their end of the covenant – they fail, of course, but they keep trying. But God doesn’t seem to be fulfilling this promise to make of them a great nation, a noble cedar. It must have been so easy to fall into despair. To believe that their small acts of resistance or faithfulness didn’t stand a chance in the face of the largeness of their oppression. To believe that nothing they did really mattered, that their actions were bearing no fruit.
This two reflections were given on Sunday, June 10, by members of our San Francisco and East Bay Discipleship Groups. Our Discipleship Groups are small groups that meet monthly to learn about and practice following in the way of Jesus.
San Francisco Discipleship Group Reflection
By Amy Bolaños
I called the patient’s name in the waiting room. A man in his mid-50s, unshaven, in tattered hat and clothes, stood up abruptly and walked brusquely toward me, barely acknowledging me as I greeted him and led him back to the exam room where I would take his blood pressure, review his medications and prepare him for his visit with the doctor. The tough, guarded look in his eyes, as well as his agitated body language, warned me to keep my voice and body language calm and to notice my safe and quick exit route from the room. As soon as I asked him how he was doing today, he launched into a barrage of threats to the stranger on the street who had just stolen his belongings. He hadn’t planned to come to the clinic today, but 30 minutes ago he was mugged by another man.
He had just picked up his medications from the pharmacy a few days ago, and they were in the bag that was stolen. “The meds aren’t going to do him any good! They’re for my heart! I hope he eats them all and it kills him!” The patient then began a 5-10 minute loud, angry monologue listing ways in which he planned to carry out revenge on this man. “I’ll find him, and when I do I’ll rip his face off! I’ll smash his head in!” etc. I just sat and listened to him vent his anger. When I could get a word in, I validated his pain and anger, trying to imagine experiencing such violence myself and the emotions it would bring up for me. I also reassured him that we would be able to help him replace his medications.
Sunday, March 3, 2018, was First Mennonite Church of San Francisco’s third annual participation in a Bay Area event known as “Walk and Bike to Worship Week”. First Mennonite’s participation included scootering and riding mass transit as well as walking and biking. The program at First Mennonite Church was organized and facilitated this year by Kenda Horst and Karen Kreider Yoder. Participants were awarded stickers showing participation and awarded entry in a raffle to win prizes that included Ford GoBike annual membership; Walk SF T-shirt and membership; and a San Francisco Bicycle Coalition T-shirt and membership. Participants were invited to a picnic at the Conservatory of Flowers following worship. One of the goals of the walking, biking, and transiting to worship event was to SAVE THE PLANET. A show of hands during the worship service on Sunday showed that around three dozen congregants walked, biked, or transited to First Mennonite Church services on March 3rd. Thank you Kenda and Karen for organizing this event! – Jim Musselman, for FMCSF Green Team
Pictured before church: Karen Kreider Yoder, Kenda Horst, Joanna Shenk, Jim Musselman, Miriam Menzel. Photo by Alan Hilton-Nichol.