Author Archives: joelmiller

Jewish prayers

Our Jewish friends are fasting today.  They are praying for themselves and the world, for us.  They are confessing shortcomings, and remembering the Mercy that holds us all.

Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a high point of the Jewish calendar.  As they have in past years, the Little Minyan congregation, under the leadership of Rabbi Jessica Shimberg, is worshiping in our building.

They are chanting Hebrew in a Mennonite sanctuary.  The Torah scroll, held in the Ark, is elevated in front of the congregation.  Behind it hangs the World banner that has focused our recent summer worship.  The Torah has a white cloth cover.  On the cloth is a tree with the Hebrew words Etz Chayim, The Tree of Life.  In Sunday’s sermon I mentioned that the Tree of Life shows up in Genesis, and doesn’t reappear until Revelation.  But that’s only one angle.  The Tree of Life lives in our time.  Without it we would wither.

Rabbi JessLittle Minyan Torah (2)ica shared with me that her congregation feels that this space is doubly blessed with Edith living here.  They are praying for her and others in similar circumstances.

As I write, a small group from the congregation is preparing the fellowship hall for the meal they will share together this evening as they break the fast at sunset.

Today I’m grateful for Jewish prayers and Jewish neighbors.  May they be for a blessing.

This picture was taken and shared with their permission.







Other languages


This past Sunday was Pentecost.  It marks the transition of the liturgical year into Ordinary Time, which lasts all the way up to Advent.

Pentecost marks the birth of the church, with the key story found in Acts 2.  It’s the one where they were all together in one room “and suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.”  What sounded like wind looked like tongues of fire, with each person getting a piece of the flame.  Then a different sound: they all started to speak in other languages.

From its origins, the church is multi-lingual.  Rather than having an official language, love, justice, and mercy get translated into every imaginable expression.  This is the work of the Spirit.  This is the gift of Pentecost.

What happened “suddenly” at the first Pentecost is regularly pretty slow work.  Two weeks from today our family will fly out to Guatemala.  We’ll be there for three weeks.  On weekdays we’ll each have private tutoring in Spanish.  We’re not going to get fluent, but we’re going to try to learn the basics of another language.

This too is the work of the Spirit.  Putting our minds to work to enter other worlds, bridge cultural barriers, and relate to another person on their terms rather than our own.

I see each of you translating love, justice, and mercy into whatever language the people around you speak each day, whether it be the language of children, the language of academia, the language of business or social work.  This too is the work of the Spirit.


Sunday’s baptism sermon, “Do you?” “I do.” is posted HERE.


Justice Menno-style


Monday was a great BREAD Nehemiah Action, with green-shirt-clad CMCers joining 2,500+ folks from 40+ congregations around Franklin County, mixing some critical yeast with critical mass.  There are many good things in motion, including the newest issue: safe, affordable housing for the 54,000 households in Franklin County who currently pay over 50% of their income toward rent or mortgage.  The city of Columbus is beginning to outline a 10 year plan to address the problem, and BREAD will be at the table.

At the Action I was asked to speak about justice from a Mennonite perspective, and to give an interfaith prayer.  Several people have asked for the manuscript of those words.  Here they are:


When Mennonites talk about justice we often combine it with another word – peace.  Peace and Justice.  We say it enough that it sounds like one long compound word: PeaceNJustice.

The peace part is something Mennonites have emphasized since our beginnings almost 500 years ago.  This is modeled on the teachings of Jesus who said things like “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  Jesus drew his vision from the Hebrew prophets, like Isaiah and Micah, who envisioned a world in which instruments of destruction would be refashioned into instruments of creativity.  “They shall beat their swords in ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”

For Mennonites, doing justice is always informed by our commitment to peaceful relationships between people and toward creation.

But here’s the catch.  Injustice thrives under the disguise of “keeping the peace.”  I think you might know what I’m talking about.  “Keeping the peace” too often means maintaining the current distribution of power and allotment of resources.  This anemic and false view of peace is often accompanied with an equally weak practice of justice.  Justice as punishment.  Justice as giving people what they deserve for breaking the peace.

Justice that leads to true peace sometimes needs to disturb the peace of the status quo.  Mennonites believe that a fruitful understanding of justice isn’t merely that people get what they deserve, but they get what they need – which could include a shuffling of resources and power.  Justice means we’ve got to lower our sword budget, and increase our ploughshares budget.

Justice is served when people get what they need.

People need safe, affordable housing.  That’s justice.

People need a living wage to care for themselves and their families.  That’s justice.

People need robust and compassionate mental health care.  That’s justice.

Columbus Mennonite Church is a part of BREAD because this is community that moves us all toward justice.

When people get what they need, we will reap a harvest of peace.






God of many names, UnNameable, UnTameable.  Wisdom, constantly unfolding.  We, sisters and brothers of the same family, have been led to this place through the commands of Torah, the cry of the Prophets, the call of the Gospel, the moral compass of human reason and compassion.  We gather here united in our hunger and thirst for justice.  We confess our failure as individuals and as institutions to live up to our best selves.  We pray for the courage and the imagination to find another way – a better way.

May our time this evening serve our intention of creating a more just and equitable society here in Franklin County.

We pray this in the name of Love.  Which pray this in the name of Justice.  We pray this in the many Names of the Source of Love and Justice, in whom we live and move and have our being.  Amen.

— Joel


Conflict and curiosity


The church subscribes to a quarterly publication called Leader.  We distribute copies to various folks in leadership positions.  The theme of the most recent edition is Conflict.

One of the essays is by Richard Blackburn, long time director of the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center.  He notes that conflict is inherently emotionally charged.  A healthy response includes recognizing those emotions and, rather than distancing oneself from their source, to remain relationally connected with the other and approach them with curiosity.  His phrase for this is “moving toward the other with interest.”

He writes: “Staying connected in the midst of disagreement requires one to move toward the other with interest.  It involves being respectfully curious about the other’s perspective while communicating a genuine desire to listen and understand.”

This approach is most appropriate when conflicted parties have a similar amount of power.

These are challenging days to be a peacemaker, especially when so many people are wrong : )

Hopefully we have not lost the capacity for curiosity about why another feels/thinks the way they do.  On good days we might still be able to move toward the other with interest.


Adult selves


Recently I’ve been reading from a book by Cynthia Lindner titled Varieties of Gifts: Multiplicity and the Well-Lived Pastoral Life.  She teaches at the University of Chicago Divinity School.  It’s a book about pastoral ministry, but much of it applies to anyone attempting adulthood.

One of the ideas I’ve found helpful is this: “Lively, functioning adult selves are always emerging from whatever sense of identity we’ve achieved” (p. 96).  Rather than a solid and continuous form of identity as the crowning achievement of adulthood – I’m a business person, I’m a mother, I’m a home owner, I’m a Christian – Lindner suggests that we are always “moving back and forth between who we know ourselves to be and who we might yet become, between received tradition and new insight, between traditional practices and adaptive ones.”

This is healthy adulthood, and comes with risks.  It can be easier to cling to a solid sense of who we are and what the world is.  But it doesn’t work.  Reality bumps up against whatever shelters we’ve built and not-so-gently demands we “emerge from whatever sense of identity we’ve achieved.”  It’s an emergence into the unknown, toward God.

I was reminded of this at lunch on Sunday, eating with people considering membership at CMC.  We were talking about the Membership Commitment – what we can affirm in it, and what questions it raises.  Although they didn’t word it quite this way, a number of people were wondering if we’re asking them to commit to a solid (and narrow) sense of Christian identity, or if this is a congregation where they will be welcomed to keep emerging, to keep asking questions, and discovering Love’s reach, within the context of Christian community.

My sense of CMC is that we aspire toward the latter.




Spiritual direction

I didn’t hear about spiritual direction until I went to seminary.  There I heard about this unique kind of relationship one can form with a spiritual director, and what is meant by “direct.”  Rather than being a therapeutic relationship or counseling, spiritual directors are trained at directing another’s attention toward areas in one’s life that might be fertile ground for growth.  Each director has a different style, but they all are skilled listeners.  The “spiritual” part of direction is the connectivity that one’s life has with oneself, others, and that mysterious reality we call God.  Healthy spirituality allows us to become more fully alive in our humanity. We’re all spiritual beings, whether we are conscious of it or not.

I’ve had three spiritual directors – one during my last year of seminary, one in Cincinnati, and in the last year I’ve begun meeting once every 6-8 weeks with a director in Columbus.  What I have found most helpful is when I speak about something, am asked to go deeper in a particular area, or one of the words I chose, and we both sit there together as I mumble through what I think I might have meant by what I said.  Usually it’s in that second or third run over that it starts to make more sense.  Or I start to realize that I don’t actually know what I’m talking about and need more time to sit with it.

In my experience spiritual directors are gentle and nonjudgmental, but willing to ask pointed questions to stir new thoughts.

Several CMC folks have been trained as spiritual directors as well as past CMC pastors Susan Ortman Goering and Dan Schrock.

I’m very pleased that part of the Sabbatical grant has been designated for up to 24 CMCers to get a taste, 3 sessions, of spiritual direction.  What would normally cost $150 per person is available for $25.

This Sunday we’ll have a Mission Moment about spiritual direction, and during the Sunday school hour Amanda Cushing from the Spirituality Network – which trains directors and matches them with directees – will lead a session for anyone who wants to know more about direction.  And, oh yeah, sign-ups are open.  Get your spot by contacting Mim Halterman.

If it sounds uncomfortable then maybe it’s something you should try.



50 years

“The one thing that would be dishonorable for us is to bring all this attention to the assassination of Dr. King and not have a resurrection of the efforts and the unfinished business dealing with systemic racism, systemic poverty.”  Rev. Dr. William Barber II

Fifty years ago today Martin Luther King Jr. was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.  The anniversary is as important as we choose to make it.

The narrative I absorbed through most of my life was that the Civil Rights movement exposed deep seated racism in the US, inspired millions, won key legislative victories, and set our country on course toward racial equality.  And here we are, almost there, with merely a scattering of personal prejudices yet to be overcome.  That’s a powerful narrative, made all the more compelling because it centers on a hero, Dr. King.

Over the last several years this narrative has been exposed as simply untrue.  It’s not that it has become untrue in the last several years.  It never was true.

People of color have known this.  Many white folks have been helped by important scholarship and movements that have been difficult to ignore.

Michele Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness lifted the veil on how our prison system targets and decimates black communities.  The Black Lives Matter movement demanded that we pay attention to black deaths at the hands of police whose charge is to keep citizens safe.  In our current political climate white supremacy parades in the light.

Part of what we seek to nurture as people of faith is an ever deepening spiritual bond with “the neighbor.”  As difficult as it is to sustain in a culture that veers toward individualism at nearly every turn, an ever expanding sense of the neighbor and the neighborhood connects our well-being to others.  It sounds lovely and lofty in theory.  It is difficult soul work to develop and enact.

Three days after we have celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who overcomes to powers of death and violence and offers the same power to those willing to receive it, let’s practice resurrection in how we educate and orient ourselves toward what Rev. William Barber refers to as “the unfinished business (of) dealing with systemic racism.”

If you are looking for another veil-lifting book on par with The New Jim Crow, I recommend either of the following, both published in 2017: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein, and The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap, by Mehrsa Baradaran  (If you have the free Hoopla app through the Columbus Metro Library, this audiobook is available there for download).