Author Archives: joelmiller

5 Things We Want Our Boys to Become

  1. To be able to enjoy girls and women without having to control or possess them.
  2. To have meaningful and vulnerable relationships with other males.
  3. To have a lively internal life of reflection, meditation, and imagination.
  4. To respect elders and to become an elder worthy of respect.
  5. To channel passion and energy toward creative betterment of one’s community.


Earlier this week I was included on a group email from CMCer Matthew Leahy.  His young son is currently undergoing chemo treatment.  Matthew was reflecting on his son’s gentleness.  His gentleness, even while facing this awful disease.  The gentleness of this boy, in contrast to the deluge of male sexually predatorial behavior now coming to light across the country.

He posed this question: “How do we keep our boys precious, loving what is good, loving beauty, feminist. And yes, loving women in the purest way possible.  Is it possible?”

Later in the day the deluge continued when I came across more disheartening news.  Two Mennonite pastors who I know personally were recently charged with and confessed to sexual misconduct.  These were separate incidences.

In his message, Matthew turned his question into an aspiration and challenge.  A campaign: “5 Things We Want Our Boys to Become.”  As parents, grandparents, mentors, uncles and aunts, and citizens, how do we answer this question?

The list above was my first crack at a response.

Of course these aspirations are not just for our boys, but for ourselves.  To hold our power in ways that uplift others rather than degrade.  To live as sexual beings within the commitments and boundaries that make for healthy relationships.  To be the kind of person we hope the beloved boys in our lives might become.

With Matthew’s permission I am passing along his challenge and campaign.  If any of you wish to send me your list of “5 Things We Want Our Boys to Become” I will add it to the end of this blog post on our website and include a link in a future blog for folks to view updates.  If you can’t come up with 5, send what you’ve got.




Small gestures


On Sunday, rather than lighting the peace candle, worship leader Becca Lachman invited us to place our hand over our heart and imagine the peace candle as a light within us.  It’s a prayerful gesture one can access any time.  Later in the service there were many candles burning as we came forward and named dear ones who have died, each flame a life whose love lives on in us.  I can still picture those candles, and still hear the affection in the voices speaking those names.

In looking at the worship calendar for November, it’s a month of small gestures pregnant with meaning.  This coming Sunday will include an opportunity to receive prayers and blessing for healing through anointing with oil.  The oil isn’t magic, but it is real, a felt presence that marks an expressed hope.  On the 19th we’ll take up a collection of canned goods, filling and surrounding our worship table with food for neighbors in need.  The final Sunday of November is also the final week of the liturgical year, known as Reign of Christ Sunday.  We’ll mark this by sharing in Communion.  Then we begin again with Advent.

Rituals and small gestures like these are one of the treasures of the church.  They are dense with meaning.  They can serve as anchors and light posts.

A candle is a life, remembered and still burning.  A touch of oil is a prayer, meeting us at our deepest longing.  A can of food is a meal and a call to open handed generosity.  Bread and cup proclaim that we, even we, are a part of the body of Christ, through whom the Divine makes small gestures to the world that love is lord of heaven and earth.



Happy? Anniversary Protestants


What do Facebook and Twitter have in common with the Protestant Reformation?  Nothing and everything.

Six days from now, October 31, is the 500 year anniversary of the German monk and professor Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church.  It was a list of grievances against the Catholic Church, of which Luther and just about all of Europe was a part.  Luther was especially critical of the sale of indulgences.  These had devolved into a fundraising mechanism as the church leveraged people’s fear of eternal punishment to solicit money donations, promising soul benefits.  Cha-ching.

Luther’s post of his theses in 1517 was later seen as Day 1 of the Protestant Reformation.  Along with redrawing the political map of Europe, the Reformation signaled radical shifts we still feel today.  It elevated the role of personal conscience over unquestioned institutional authority.  It is Luther from whom we get the idea of the priesthood of all believers.

Posting arguments publicly wasn’t particularly unique.  What made these theses so influential was a technological invention from the previous century.  The printing press was a new device that, for the first time, enabled documents, pamphlets, and whole Bibles, to be printed and shared on a massive scale.  Essentially, Luther’s 95 Theses went viral, to his own surprise.

Thus the connection with present day Facebook and Twitter.  One could argue that in regards to the free sharing of ideas, the 21st century is the 16th century on steroids.  Or on the internet.

So the free sharing of ideas is a good thing.  The church, and political powers that backed it were corrupt.  The Reformation, which includes Mennonites among its children, sought to offer much needed correctives.

But the Reformation was also a violent splintering, as are some of the currents of the 21st century.  Much has been written recently about how our own perception of reality gets reinforced by the kind of company we keep in the viral world of memes and idea sharing.

Rather than celebrating the Protestant Reformation, and the countless sects it has spawned, it’s perhaps better that we simply observe it.  We can observe this 500 year anniversary with gratitude, and also with caution.  Because we are observing its consequences around us, and they are not all pretty.

We can observe our own tendencies toward sectarianism and tribal thinking, and look for the universal that can get lost in it all.  Catholic, with a little “c”, catholic, means “universal.”  It holds out the firm hope that underneath stark divides, ideological battles, and persistent abuses of power, there is a universal thread connecting us all at the soul level.  I hope it holds.


For a more detailed article comparing the communication technologies of these two eras see this 2011 article in the Economist: “How Luther went viral.

Beauty and grief


In the past few days I’ve had multiple conversations about Ohio in October.  In short, it’s a beautiful time of year.  It’s special.

It’s the trees that do it to us.  I’m fearing the downward line of societal disintegration, and they’re still there, pointing to circularity.  They’ve gathered their energy, stored their supplies for the journey through winter, and are letting go.  Their colorful solar panels disintegrate and become earth and soil beneath them.  What has the outward appearance of death is how they live.

I do grieve the leaves falling every autumn.  I’m never ready for it.  The green didn’t last long enough.  I didn’t appreciate the canopy enough, again.  And it will soon be gone.  I’m never ready for the trees to be bare.  I will likely notice this every day until they aren’t, again.

It’s likely the mix of grief and beauty that makes this such a soulful season.  That combination works miracles, many of them painful and necessary.

I see that mix of grief and beauty also present in our sanctuary work, #metoo, and every other present effort of humanity defining itself in courageous and vulnerable ways.  It is healing work, and we are the ones in need of healing.

I’m grateful for a quarterly Sabbath weekend.  Abbie and I get to spend a couple days in Hocking Hills among the trees.  They are faithful companions and speak a language I need to hear.




Thoughts and prayers


There are a lot of thoughts and prayers happening these days.  Hurricanes, a mass shooting, and the re-awakened demon of nuclear war ought to cause a lot of thinking and praying. “Thoughts and prayers” has become a common phrase, shorthand for I care about this, something to say when you don’t know what else to say.

Whether these words are too cheap and easy is a topic for a different blog.  I, for one, am glad to take them at face value unless there’s reason to be skeptical.

I do wonder how these two actions relate to each other.  Are thoughts and prayers two distinct things?  Can there be prayer without thought?  Is thought a form of prayer?  Are we unsure what we mean by prayer, so we qualify it with what we’re more familiar with, something more down to earth – thinking compassionately about someone or a group of people?

I imagine all of these could be answered in the affirmative, with commentary to follow.

Some people experience prayer as a direct conversation with God on behalf of another person or situation.  Others experience prayer as a particular form of thought – a conscious decision to direct love and goodwill in the direction of another.  There is good precedent in the tradition for both forms.  One of my favorite passages about prayer is in Romans 8 when Paul talks about the Spirit groaning within us with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:23).  Perhaps rather than “thoughts and prayers” we should say “groans and sighs.”

A few weeks ago during a worship service Pete Y passed along a phrase as an encouragement for us to give toward our congregational first fruits pledging process.  He noted that a wealthy couple whose generosity he greatly admires shared with him that “Our money can go places we can’t.”

I’m thinking that this phrase also works for thoughts and prayer.  Our prayers go places we can’t.  Our thoughts go places we can’t.

We can’t always be in the hospital room, on the hurricane-devastated island, at the death bed, with a friend struggling with mental health.  But our thoughts, prayers, groans, and sighs become extensions of ourselves.  They reach out and touch, in unseen ways, the circumstances of our fellow creatures.  And in the process, they form us into more compassionate people.


Going deeper with Sanctuary

This Sunday we’ll begin a fall worship series focused on Sanctuary.  In the last month Sanctuary has become a major theme for our congregation.  We have practiced Sanctuary in our building and been a part of a mobile Sanctuary surrounding Edith at various times after she left our building.  It has been a very public commitment.  With Edith now at her Columbus home discerning next steps after being denied a stay of removal, we continue to be in a position of holding space.  Meanwhile, we are in the middle of a growing movement in the faith community.  Yesterday 30 people representing at least 10 congregations met at our building to discuss how we are all working on the sanctuary discussion in our own settings and how we might work together.  We have received invitations to speak at similar gatherings in northeast and southwest Ohio.
In our worship we’ll continue to ask what it means to be a sanctuary congregation.  Specifically, what is the history of sanctuary in the church and beyond the church?  What scriptures pertain to sanctuary?  What is the role of civil disobedience in the life of faith?  How does sanctuary intersect with the ministry of Jesus?  And, beyond our building, what does it mean for us to be sanctuary people in the broadest sense?  How do we create sanctuary space in our conversations, work places, and homes?  What is the inward journey of sanctuary?
This Sunday is also World Communion Sunday, so we’ll join with churches around the world at the generous and abundant table of bread and cup.

The new year: fear and joy   


This morning I was part of a meeting that included Edith Espinal, her attorneys, and several key advocates.  This coming Monday is an important day for her.  She has a check in with ICE in which there will be one of three outcomes: 1) Her stay of removal will be accepted and she’ll be told the amount of time she can stay in the US, up to one year. 2) Her stay of removal will be rejected, she’ll be released, and given a date in the next three weeks when she’ll need to appear before ICE with a plane ticket back to Mexico that she has purchased.  3) Her stay of removal will be rejected and she’ll be detained on the spot, held in one of the cells in the ICE office on the third floor of the Leveque Tower downtown.  There are some slight variances within each of these options, and it’s difficult to know which is the most likely.

While we were meeting, the attorneys got a call from an ICE officer relaying that Edith’s case was being decided soon in the Detroit offices and that Edith was to bring an itinerary on Monday.  This made it seem like the chances of her being detained are lowered, but so too are the chances for a stay.  An itinerary isn’t a plane ticket, but a plan of when you’ll get one.  Edith is currently scheduled to meet with the third party contractor, the GEO Group Company, that often works on ICE’s behalf, meaning her attorneys would not be able to be in the room with her.

One of the main considerations Edith is dealing with right now is fear for her son Brandow and husband Manuel.  Neither of them have a secure status and are in danger of future deportation.  ICE officers have unfortunately been holding that over Edith and she is fearful that if she does not play by the rules, for example, re-enters sanctuary in our church, that ICE would target her son and husband for an expedited deportation process.  It’s another case of not knowing what the true risks are for decisions she’ll soon be making.

Her advocates are going to work for her today with a few strategies to lobby on her behalf.  We as a congregation continue to hold space for her.  Next Wednesday we’ll also be hosting in our fellowship hall an open conversation with clergy and lay leaders of other Central Ohio faith communities considering the next steps of sanctuary in their own congregations.

When I arrived back at the church I pulled in to a full parking lot.  The Little Minyan Kehila, a Jewish congregation that uses our building for their high holy days, is in our building all day for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.  I slipped in to the back of the sanctuary as a guest in our home, soaking in the words of song of their worship.  Their leader Jessica Shimberg was speaking about joy, and the Divine accompanying us through life.  She invited them to turn in their worship books to Psalm 150, a Psalm of praise.  Soon a guitar led them into a song full of Hallelujahs.

It did not in the least bit feel in tension with what I had just been a part of at the attorney’s office.  It was an entirely appropriate, indeed necessary, indeed imperative response to the sorrows and gifts of living.  It was an affirmation of Divine and human accompaniment, sung in a sanctuary where even I, a Gentile outsider, was welcomed with warmth.


This morning’s Dispatch included an article titled “More religious groups considering offering sanctuary from deportation.