Kansas City here we come (again)!

This article is adapted from a piece I submitted to the Kansas City Star four years ago, the last time the Mennonite Church USA convention was held in Kansas City.

I wish I had a field guide to give Kansas City residents and businesses on how to spot, feed and care for the close to 3,000 Mennonites who will attend the biennial Mennonite Church USA convention July 2-6 at the Kansas City Convention Center.

Of course no such guide exists, nor could it exist. That is because the denomination I belong to (MCUSA) is made up of geographically and theologically diverse conferences, churches and peoples.

One cannot and should not make sweeping generalizations about membership within Mennonite Church USA. Our denomination is made up of urban, rural and suburban congregations. Every Mennonite has a different story of how they or their ancestors became Mennonite. Some of us have belonged to a Mennonite church all our lives, and others of us have come to the Mennonite church by way of a partner, a friend, a book, a website or by mistake.

Some Mennonites will arrive to Kansas City on trains, planes or bikes. And just in case there are any rumors going around, no, there will not be an increase in horses and buggies downtown.

MCUSA is made up of Anabaptist Christians. Amish, like Mennonites, trace their history to the 16th-century Anabaptists, but it would be erroneous to conflate Amish and Mennonites today. Some refer to Mennonites and Amish as distant denominational cousins.

There is nothing about our physical appearance that will identify us as Mennonites. That being said, some of our theological convictions do sometimes make us stand out in the Christian denominational landscape. Like all Anabaptists, we believe that Jesus was the one who transformed worldly greed, power, violence and ultimately death. The Mennonites I am most inspired by are those who take seriously prophet Isaiah’s vision: “They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (2:4)

We struggle, just like all people of faith, to respond to the injustices and human suffering experienced in this world. And despite our commitment to peacemaking, we experience conflict, division and controversy within our churches, conferences and denomination.

For example, just like a lot of Christian denominations, Mennonites are not of the same mind when it comes to LGBTQ justice. Personally speaking, I am supportive of the Pink Menno movement, and the way that movement has been a visible, vocal, and nonviolent presence supporting sustaining and furthering witness to the goodness of LGBTQ people. Next week at convention many of us will celebrate the 10th anniversary of this transformative movement.  http://www.pinkmenno.org/

So with that, I invite you to check out this video about Pink Menno. It was created by another organization many of us at Rainbow support, Brethren Mennonite Council.

 

 

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Forged anew

This coming Sunday, June 9, we will dedicate a gardening tool (pictured below) for use in our Rainbow garden. It was forged just this past April by RAWtools , using guns donated by Rainbow community members.

Click here to read an article written by one of the gun donors: Dad’s gun

Garden Tool

Etched at the bottom of this tool is the RAWtools logo (see below).

As RAWtools Director Michael Martin writes, “it represents an olive branch, like the dove carried after the flood–a promise of hope as well as a nod to never again.  Its the same shape as the olive branch in our logo inside the anvil. The anvil is the Christ figure for me, the forge is God/Spirit.  I love Pentecost for all of this. The best thing about the fire of the forge is that its not allowed inside- it forces us to go out.”

For these reasons and more, this gardening tool will be present in our Pentecost worship this coming Sunday, June 9. We will place it on the communion table along with this gardening tool blessing lovingly written by Lonnie Buerge:

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May it be so.

 

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Pastors in space

My science fiction-loving spouse introduced me to The Expanse, which some people describe as Game of Thrones in space. It’s considered speculative fiction and was first conceived by James S. A. Corey. Essentially it’s about a colonized solar system 200 years in the future. Hostilities between humans on Earth, humans who colonized Mars, and the humans of the Asteroid Belt, aka “Belters,” are starting to boil over as an unknown material threatens to wipe out the entire human race.  

By Season Three of The Expanse I was hooked, especially since at the center of this season (and solar system for that matter) stands a Methodist Minister named Annushka “Anna” Volovodov, played by Elizabeth Mitchell.

We don’t know a lot about her back story other than she used to be a medical professional. Now she is a Minister of St. John’s United congregation in St. Petersburg, Europa. We also know that she is married to her wife Nono and they have a young daughter together named Nami. Unlike a lot of stories that feature a same-sex relationship, their marriage is never exploited to make a political point or to fulfill some sort of sexual fantasy. 

Also unlike a lot of stories involving clergy in popular culture, Anna is no buffoon. Yes, many fans were nervous when a pastor appeared in Season Three, expressing concern that it was going to get too “preachy.” And even though not everyone got on board with her character, she is described by so many fans, religious and non-religious, as having a “heart of gold and a will of steel.” Or as Marvin Pittman put it, Anna demonstrates, “heartfelt righteousness without sinking into buzzkill, virtue-signaling annoyance.” Even her fellow comrades, from politicians to the ship crew, tell her on many occasions, almost with a surprised look on their faces, “You are sure good at what you do.”    

At every turn in Season Three, Anna is there, by the politician’s side, by the ship captain’s side, giving a eulogy after a death by suicide, tending to the injured, lifting up ethical questions and consequences, putting her life on the line, holding people accountable (including herself), and saying some of the most profound lines of the show (see below). She admits when she messes up and reflects on ways she is sometimes blinded by her own selfish ambition to be part of something amazing. Oh, and let’s not forget that when she’s not flying around the solar system ministering to UN delegates and marines of all kinds, she and her wife Nono run a free clinic out of the church in order to assist the “undocumenteds.” 

There is more to say, but I’ll let Anna do the talking now. See quotes below. (Click on the movie to pause it at anytime.) If you can’t tell,  I think you’re really good at this, Anna. Thanks for being a great role model. And thanks for saving the solar system.  

 

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Inch by inch, row by row

Happy 10th birthday Rainbow Community Garden! Here are just a few highlights from the past ten years, first in photos/music. Thank you Jesse Graber for the music and thank you Aaron Barnhart for providing the written highlights below.

 

From Aaron Barnhart:
“We produced a tremendous amount of food in a very small space. Until recently there was less than 1,000 square feet of garden plots and raised beds in the garden. Yet we harvested between 500 and 1000 pounds of food every year from it. Most of this was high quality kitchen-ready food like potatoes, onions, spinach, peppers, tomatoes, and herbs.
“Beginning in 2015 when Ramona Cacho began teaching, we have been able to get nearly every Summer Program scholar into the garden at least once during the session. Some kids were in there weekly. While there they helped keep the beds clean, did some harvesting, and also did projects in the kitchen. Our culinary staff in past years, especially Laura Thomsen, were great in encouraging the scholars to do projects in the kitchen.
“We built relationships with our neighbors — Annie to the north, Raymond and Seleta to the south, and our late friend Pablo who always dropped by and chased off the onion thieves. Ray and Seleta also let us use their water supply before we got our own, and forgave us when we felled a tree and it took out their cable TV!
“We leveraged the assistance of numerous volunteer and grant-making organizations: Kansas City Community Gardens and the Giving Grove especially, but also the Unified Government and their H2O To Grow program, which gave us a new water tap; the Miracle-Gro Foundation; RDA; Youth Volunteer Corps of Greater KC; and numerous church groups.
“And finally, we provided a green space for fellowship and service. Dozens of Rainbow members have pitched in over the years, and our current crew has the garden looking better and more productive than ever. We are delighted to welcome back the culinary staff this summer and look forward to serving their needs and making it possible for 100+ Summer Program scholars discover that food doesn’t come from a truck!”
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Good Friday: A symphony of sorrows

“From noon on, darkness came over the whole land…Many women were there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. -Matthew 27: 45; 55-56

What follows is a reflection for this most sorrowful day, Good Friday. It is written by my dad, Keith Harder.

Were my bitter tears to create

another river

they would not restore to life

my son. He lies in a grave and I

know not where

though I keep asking people

everywhere.

Oh, sing for him

God’s little song-birds

since his mother

cannot find him.

And you, God’s little

flowers

may you blossom all around

so that my son

sleep happily.

 

I was mesmerized as I listened to these words sung in Polish by Dawn Upshaw on the radio on my short drive home for lunch.  When I got home I sat in the car weeping as the music from Gorecki’s “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” swept over me (link below).  Only later did I find the English translation of the text that is embedded in the symphony. A text of a mother weeping for a son lost in war.

It was a short time after our son Tim drowned. I was still tender and easily moved to tears. Gorecki’s music and Upshaw’s voice touched me that day as a piece of music never had before. It expressed and carried my grief and loss in such a tender and unexpected way.

When the music was finished, the NPR radio host invited listeners to call with their impressions. In gratitude I called, noting the grief for Tim that it evoked. Later I learned from a friend that my call was broadcast; my fifteen seconds of fame.

Some years later this friend encountered his own symphony of sorrows in the death by suicide of his son. To this day we are bound in our grief through this haunting piece of music.

Fast forward thirty years and my daughter Ruth meets a member of the Kansas City Symphony who urges Ruth to suggest to the conductor of the Kansas City Symphony that they consider including the Symphony of Sorrows in a future concert.

All of this points to a mysterious convergence of events, people and experiences that I take as a glimpse of divine providence.  A weeping mother in the aftermath of WWII, Tim’s death, Gorecki’s inspiration, someone including this obscure piece by an obscure Polish composer in a radio play list, my drive home for lunch on the day when it was playing on the radio, my calling our NPR station, John hearing my call and John’s son’s death all mysteriously converging in a redemptive, healing moment in time which continues to be a source of inspiration and comfort.

 

 

 

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Holy Week covering and uncovering

 

A Holy Week reflection by Jan Buerge:

We had planned it weeks ago.  The grey mesh fabric had been hanging across the color burst graphic for all of the weeks of Lent obscuring the energy and promise of that burst. On Palm Sunday it would seem fitting then to also drape that mesh fabric across the table as a symbol that we were entering Holy Week and all the trial and betrayal and grief that would precede the Easter Resurrection.

It was all confirmed. David would carry out the last Lenten candle and then I would blow out the candle on the encircling community sculpture and simply drape the grey fabric over the table. Over the sculpture. Over the palm branches. Over it all. Not hard at all. Except it was.

As I walked to the table and lifted the fabric, for a moment I just stopped. It felt too momentous. What was I covering? The glimmer of hope that was still left in Lent and Palm Sunday?

What flashed before me was the finality of life as we know it unless we also have hope in something eternal. Was I covering the face of Jesus who would soon be sent to a tomb?  I was also remembering the death of my father as we watched his life slip away. And thinking of a dear friend whose father is fighting to hold onto his life here amongst his family. All of this in a moment.

The grey fabric felt heavier than I imagined it could possibly be. Maybe I was lifting along with it the covering of loss. Loss that will always be felt deeply until other moments when the uncovering of our own resurrections can be celebrated.

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Turning guns into gardening tools

Tonight at Rainbow (April 2 from 6-8 pm), we welcome Shane Claiborne, Mike Martin of RAWtools, and friends.  They are on a speaking tour promoting their book, “Beating Guns: Hope for people who are weary of violence.” I thought I’d use this occasion to (re)share the story of how Mike and I first met.

It was a Saturday before Pentecost (2016). All week I had been looking for sermon illustrations—evidence, as Molly T. Marshall writes in her book “Joining the Dance,” that the Spirit of God is at work “reversing twisted forms of love that consume the good…laboring toward the liberation of all oppressed.” It was getting late, and my sermon felt a little spirit-less, so I kept reading and writing. That’s when I saw an article posted on HuffingtonPost by Shane Claiborne titled, Beating Guns in Memory of Trayvon Martin. “We,” Claiborne wrote, “are going to take a 9mm pistol identical to Zimmerman’s, beat it into a plow, auction it off, and donate the money to Trayvon Martin’s family foundation.”

The “we” in this case referred to RAWtools, Inc., an organization I had not heard about until the evening of May 14, 2016. So imagine my surprise when, while scrolling through the RAWtools website for the first time ever, a new message appeared in my Rainbow email inbox with the subject line RAWtools Meeting: Time Sensitive. I almost didn’t open it for fear that it was some sort of scam. But open it I did, and there, to my surprise, was a personal note from RAWtools Director Michael Martin:  Hi Pastor Harder, I have an urgent request. You may be familiar with George Zimmerman auctioning the gun he used to kill Trayvon Martin. Shane Claiborne and RAWtools are creating a response by getting a surrogate gun and auctioning a tool we make from it in support of Trayvon Martin Foundation.

Mike went on to say that they had a gun donor willing to meet them in KC. He thought perhaps we at Rainbow could provide them a public place in order to cut/disable these donated guns.

After some follow-up conversations with Mike and church leadership, we decided to go forward with this plan, taking all the safety precautions we thought to take.

It was a rainy Monday evening when Michael and his traveling mate Mary Sprunger-Froese arrived, along with the gun donor. We met in the church shed and watched as these two 9 mm pistols were disabled. It felt like we were standing on holy ground as we watched the sparks fly; truly a Pentecost moment in my book.

 

Inside Edition used part of the video we took that day here: https://www.insideedition.com/media/videos/group-turns-guns-garden-tools-40943

Michael said that while making this particular gardening tool (pictured above), someone walked away from the booth in disgust saying, “They are killing our guns!” This is such a sad commentary on what guns have become to so many people in this country.

As Michael and Mary were preparing to leave, one of our Rainbow congregants said that he was proud that Rainbow Mennonite was seen as a potential partner in this kind of peacemaking work. I couldn’t agree more.

My own thank you to Michael read as follows:

While it is difficult today to know how to fulfill Isaiah’s call to “beat swords into plowshares,” we applaud those who are creatively and bravely seeking to transform hatred and violence into a better purpose. We thank Shane Claiborne and RAWtools for providing us an opportunity to be partners in this work.

 

 

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