Author Archives: joelmiller

To flow again

“I am one with the source insofar as I act as a source, by making everything I have received flow again—just like Jesus.”

-Raimon Panikkar, Christophany

I love this line from today’s Inward/Outward Together daily quote.  It fits well with our stewardship series.  It’s a good image – to think of our time, talents, and treasure as things that flow.  They are things we have received flowing towards us from the Source. We have choices about whether we allow them to dam up and create our own personal reservoir, or whether we let them flow through us. 

Reservoirs actually aren’t so bad an idea.  Good planning involves reservoirs.  They provide sustenance in dry times.  Significant amounts of water, when released strategically, can create hydro-electric power that empowers others. 

The shadow side of this is that large reservoirs can destroy sensitive surrounding habitat.  And how much is enough to collect before it’s time to let it flow?

Extended metaphor over…almost.

Raimon Panikkar, who himself flowed with such creativity and insight, is also saying that “making everything that I have received flow again” is what makes us “one with the source.”  “Just like Jesus.”  Good stewardship is a mystical experience in which we embody the Divine life.

But I would still like to figure out how to keep an assured reservoir of time.  Not liking the odds.

Joel

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Hidden churches

First, a couple updates:

1)     As of yesterday, the 24/7 vigil at the Bethel church in The Hague is no longer necessary.  The Dutch ruling coalition has agreed to review hundreds of children’s asylum applications, including those of the Tamrazyan family who had been sheltered in the church.  This is a powerful example of people of goodwill having moral influence toward public officials.  If you haven’t heard it, PRI’s The World covered our participation in the vigil on MLK Day.   

2)     Edith’s 500th day in Sanctuary at CMC falls on February 14th, Valentine’s Day.  Keep your eyes open for a creative opportunity to invite friends, family, and networks to share the love with Edith and family by donating toward their needs.

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Monday of last week was dedicated to the non-stop vigil in the Bethel church in The Hague.  On Tuesday and Wednesday our hosts showed us around.  Part of our tour included visiting two historic Mennonite “hidden churches.”  Both churches were built in the early 1600’s when Mennonites were tolerated by the Protestant authorities.  They weren’t persecuted, but they also weren’t openly accepted.  Mennonites were allowed to gather for worship, but their buildings had to be hidden – they couldn’t show up in the architecture of the city.  Catholics had a similar status.  The two hidden churches we visited are vastly different in scale.  One is a small meetinghouse in the little village of Pingjum in Friesland.  Menno Simons ministered in this town, and the building was built later by his followers.  The other, on a canal street in Amsterdam, is a towering worship space with a two tiered balcony.  What these spaces have in common is how, from the outside, they blend seamlessly into the surrounding homes.  They are hidden, even though they were never intended to be secret.  

I imagine worshiping regularly in a hidden church would impact a congregation’s sensibility.  This could be for good or for ill.  On the one hand, worship in a hidden church could be a weekly reminder that the faith of Jesus was never about social acceptance.  His teachings simply don’t fit into the normal flow of society, and so his followers, rather than putting their identity into easily recognizable structures, pour their energy into nurturing ways of life easily recognized as loving and neighborly.       

On the other hand, a congregation could fall into the mindset that their faith is overall a hidden thing – something personal and interior, but never public.  A part of oneself to be cherished yet hidden, not registering in the moral/social architecture of society.

I imagine there are similar pitfalls and opportunities for those of us who worship in non-hidden churches.  The danger of being fully accepted is becoming a mere function of the culture, uncritically reflecting its values, elevating respectability above prophetic engagement.

Or, we could recognize that our  faith, like our building, is on public display.  In opening our doors to all, by being a gathering place for community groups, by practicing hospitality in our building and homes and relationships, we are living a faith that is both personal and public, for our own growth and for the common good. 

Hidden Church in Pingjum, building with the flag.

Inside the Pingjum Hidden Church

Hidden Church in Amsterdam.  Sorry, no good pictures from outside.  It blends in.

MLK Day 2019: Keeping vigil in The Haag


Austin McCabe Juhnke and I arrived in the Netherlands yesterday.  We ended up leaving Columbus a day early to avoid airport weather delays.  We are being hosted by a couple who attends the Mennonite church in The Haag.  They live near the Bethel church which is hosting the round the clock vigil to protect the Tamrazyan family.  They have been in the country nine years, are political refugees, and are living in the church to avoid being deported to Armenia.  Government officials will not enter the building as long as there is a religious service in progress.

Interestingly, our visit coincides with a significant political development here.  One of the country’s four parties has changed their position on child asylum and now supports a more generous law.  This was front page national news today, which included a picture of the Bethel church action, and mention of two Americans from Ohio coming to participate.

Today was our day to lead three hours of the service.  Being MLK Day, we utilized the entirety of his Letter from Birmingham Jail.  We invited volunteers to read paragraphs, included times to pause for commentary, open reflections, silence, and singing verses of “We shall overcome.”  We also prayed our CMC Sanctuary Prayer in English and Spanish a number of times, including a Dutch translation from the Mennonite pastor.  It was good to be able to mix our congregation’s journey with Edith into our sharing. 

One of the lines from the Dr. King’s letter I experienced in a new way was the often-quoted “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Reading this with a family in asylum in The Hague adds a fresh expansiveness to these words.  Another line that unexpectedly gained power was King’s description of the early church: “They were small in number but big in commitment.”  There were perhaps 25-30 people present throughout our time leading, and there are at times only two or three keeping vigil, but it was tremendously powerful to experience the spiritual and moral vitality of this gathering to which so many have committed.  We were told they have surpassed 10,000 visitors, 800 leaders, and 2000 hours of vigil. 

Below are some pictures from our day.

Standing outside Bethel Church in The Haag with our greeting party.

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Joining a group that led the service in the early afternoon before us.  This gives a nice view of the worship space.

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Receiving the lighted candle from the previous leader, which, when finished, we passed on to the next – an illuminated baton in a long relay.

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Austin reflecting on the contemporary Madonna, an art piece gifted early on for the vigil, depicting a young African mother and child seeking safety across dangerous waters.

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Sharing a meal after our part of the service prepared by the Tamrazyan family, sitting with the two sisters who speak English, Dutch, and some Armenian.  They also have a younger brother.  The parents ate with us but do not want their photos public since they are political refugees.  

Kerkasiel

Kerkasiel: a customary law in the Netherlands giving a congregation the right to receive refugees during a religious service within their building.   

A month ago a CMC member emailed me a story about a congregation in The Haag, Netherlands.  Like us, they are hosting a person – or in their case a whole family – their government is trying to deport.  While we in the US have the “sensitive locations” policy that instructs ICE officers not to enter church buildings, the Netherlands has a law that government officials cannot enter a church building during religious services.  So, since October, this congregation has been holding an around-the-clock service.  A kind of holy filibuster.  Faith leaders from around the Netherlands are signing up to lead different shifts, including the likely-not-so-well-attended 3am and 4am times slots. 

Thanks to the generous offer of this member to donate frequent flier miles, Austin McCabe Juhnke (our CMC Sanctuary point person) and I will be flying to the Netherlands after CMC worship this Sunday to participate in the vigil.  I have been in touch with the coordinator and we have been slotted to lead three hours Monday evening, January 21st, which is MLK Jr. Day in the US. 

Along with the Sanctuary connection, this church in The Haag is only a couple hours drive from where Menno Simons (the guy who put the Menno in Mennonite) lived and ministered.  So the trip will double as a mini pilgrimage.  Because I mentioned to the coordinator we were Mennonites, she passed along our contact info to a local Mennonite pastor with whom I have since had several exchanges, including a Skype video chat.  She has taken the initiative to arrange housing for us and two day trips – to Friesland (Menno’s stomping grounds) and Amsterdam.  Her congregation will host us for a potluck that Tuesday.  We’ll be flying back to the US on Thursday.

It will be an honor to represent CMC as we join in solidarity with others doing similar work in another part of the world, and make connections in another corner of the Mennonite world – the original Menno hub.  We hope to take pictures and some video and I’ll certainly blog about it.      

Joel

P.S. If you’re driving to the church on Oakland Park Ave from the east you may notice a For Sale sign in our yard.  We are indeed moving, but gladly remaining in Columbus and at CMC.  The flight to the Netherlands is merely a coincidence :-O    

Looking back at 2018

A new calendar year is underway.  It’s a good time to look back on the previous year and give thanks for how the Spirit of love, grace, and justice has accompanied us along the way.  It’s also a good time to change the hard-to-pronounce Phloem and Xylem blog title to the more pragmatic Midweek Blog.  Without trying be exhaustive, here are some highlights from each month of 2018.

January | Winter Seminar featured Sara Thompson and Jonathan Brenneman (who have since married) presenting on skill building for confrontational nonviolence.  One of the role playing scenarios I remember had us pairing up and practicing a de-escalation of encountering someone angrily kicking their dog.       

February | Our Fellowship Hall was transformed into Chateau CMC for the open mic coffee house coinciding with the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.  Along with the musical performances, in-house Olympic-like events included trying to move an Oreo from your forehead to your mouth with no hands.   

March | Several CMCers joined with our neighbor choir at North Broadway UMC to perform “Requiem” by Maurice Durufle. 

April | Mark began his Sabbatical.  Winter/Spring Dinner Groups met in homes, a chance to meet new people around a good meal.    

May | We joined 2500+ people of faith for the annual BREAD Nehemiah Action.  This year’s new issue was affordable housing.  As a congregation we welcomed 13 new members and heard from them about their faith journey.

June | Our annual comforter blessing included a record 239 comforters made by our Piecemakers group, with assistance from the congregation during the spring knotting party.  Comforters were delivered to the Kidron MCC office and distributed to refugees in 13 countries.

July | As a part of my summer Sabbatical Eve and I visited with our sister church in Armenia, Colombia.  After much help in translating the manuscript, I preached in Spanish for the first time.

August | We had our second session of “The busy person’s retreat: An introduction to Spiritual Direction” through The Spirituality Network.  Participants met three times one-on-one with a spiritual director and as a group.

September | Our worship focus reviewed the summer theme of “Called In: World, City, Congregation, Self.”  We enjoyed the four new banners corresponding with these themes.

October | We observed one year in Sanctuary with Edith by hosting a press conference and prayer vigil. That week also included a rally at the ICE offices downtown.   

November |  Our Leadership Team and Ministry Council met to begin the conversation on rewriting our congregation Membership Commitment.  January includes chances for anyone to provide input.

December | CMC children don sheep, angel, and various other costumes to perform “Room for Christmas.”   

Thanks to each of you for bringing your selves into this congregation and for the many ways you witness to the love and goodness that sustain us.

Blessings for 2019,

Joel

A season of more

This morning I was listening to a podcast where the guest made an off-hand comment that drugs – and money, the host added – make people more extreme versions of themselves.  Whether or not this is true for drugs and money, it seems to be true for the Christmas season.

This is a season in which we feel things more deeply.  The grief in our life rises to the surface.  Simple joys feel richer.  Losses and longings have more weight.  The warmth of what holds us dear glows brighter.  The coldness that separates us from others, and ourselves, intensifies.  Relational complexities get more complex.  It doesn’t help that all this takes place during the darkest days of the year.

This is our common lot.  The drug of the Christmas season.

Just naming and recognizing this is a helpful first step.

My hope for myself and you is that we can receive all of these things as some form of a gift.  To grieve means we have loved.  To long for something or someone not present is to experience the pull of our humanity lunging us toward more of what makes life full and meaningful.  To find warmth in something so small as a gesture of kindness is to have our eyes open to what is there all along.

Peace, comfort, or just a satisfactory survival to you this season,

Joel

Thomas Merton 50 years later

“The real function of discipline is not to provide us with maps but to sharpen our own sense of direction so that when we really get going we can travel without maps.”

— Thomas Merton, “Renewal and Discipline” essay in book Contemplation in a World of Action

I could have included any of thousands of quotes from Thomas Merton.  This one comes from an essay I’m currently reading.

Monday was the 50 year anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton, one of the most important voices coming out of America in the 20th century. Exactly 27 years before his death, on December 10, 1941, Merton first arrived at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery in Kentucky.  That place became the fertile ground out of which grew Merton’s peacefully relentless spiritual and intellectual explorations.

Merton’s initial retreat from the world gave him a vantage point from which he engaged the world on the pressing issues of his time – an authentic human life in a dehumanizing society, nonviolence, racial justice, the purpose of education, the sham of materialism, the freedom of “the self no longer clothed with the ego” (Love and Living, p. 8,), the necessity of harmonizing with the natural world.  He was a pioneer in exploring Eastern traditions and integrating their insights into Western ways of seeing.

In short, he’s someone whose voice we desperately need now.

Any of his writings would make a lovely Christmas present to yourself.

More info about his life and writings can be found HERE.

One more line from the same “Renewal and Discipline” essay:

“The passage from a stage in which one loves and worships God as a beautiful object of desire to a stage in which God ceases to be object and loses all definite limitations in our mind is something which cannot easily be described: but it is a perilous, though necessary, experience.”

Joel