A walk down memory boulevard

Today’s blog post comes by way of Brenda Beachey, who grew up attending Rainbow with her siblings and parents, Bonnie and Jake. Brenda now belongs to Village Presbyterian Church in KC

“Of all the gin joints…”

OK… the Vox Theatre is not exactly Rick’s Cafe, but “Casablanca” likely played the Vox in the 40’s, after it originally opened as the silent Rosedale Theater in 1922. Why was I at the Vox tonight?

oFor the last few years, I have been thinking about getting involved with the Dominican Republic Medical Partnership (DRMP), an international mission program established by Village Church in the 90s. From our church’s web site: “The mission is to improve the health and wellbeing of people living in the bateyes and barrios of the Dominican Republic and to promote sustainable health care efforts through partnerships. The DRMP’s mission is shaped y the gospel that bids us to love our neighbors, both near and far, as we love ourselves.” Village started this program in the 90s, but I don’t have any clinical skills so I have never really pursued it. I just didn’t know if I would be needed. However, as a wise friend said last night, “I just want to help”. Me too.

Anyway, back to the Vox. A few women from my Village Pres small group encouraged me to join them for the benefit last night. They had been last year and said it was a great event. They even offered to pick me up and sit at their table so I didn’t have to go by myself. Since I wasn’t driving, I didn’t look up the Vox on a map. When we turned onto Southwest Blvd and crossed the familiar railroad tracks, I got goosebumps. I told them how I had gotten stuck at the train at this crossing and been late for church as a kid too many times to count (no train tracks on the way to Village but I am still usually on the 5 minutes late side). I saw the Whitmore Playground coming up on the right; a beautiful family urban oasis built and maintained by the good people from my parents’ church. The park was buzzing with neighborhood families on this warm summer evening. Our car slowed and suddenly on the left I saw the bright orange VOX sign. We had arrived at our event. Last night’s Village Presbyterian event was held in Kansas City Kansas across the street from the stone church where my parents had been members (and my father is still an active member) for 50 years.

It is a place where a piece of my mother’s heart rests in their beautiful Remembrance Garden. So, how was it possible that I never noticed the Vox, the little jewel box with ornate pressed tin ceilings and a lush red velvet curtain, that stood right across the street? It had been there since the 1920s. Why did I end up in the shadow of Rainbow all these years later?
brenda 2Well the DRMP event was a big success with great food, music, and generous people. I look forward to figuring out my niche and hopefully joining a trip to the DR in 2018. However, last night something (or someone) was tugging at me to sneak out before dark and take a walk down memory lane, aka Southwest Blvd to Rainbow Mennonite Church.

I visited my sweet mama’s brick in the garden and I walked up the steps to the front door and looked out onto the church front yard where I noticed their signs. In 3 languages the signage read, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor”. I looked back across the street at the Vox and thought about all the good people in this world who are doing their part to shine their light, share theirs gifts, and make the world a better place. I was at an event in the 1400 block of Southwest Blvd to be reminded of who I was raised to be. It was a God thing.brenda 3

How was it possible that I drove by the Vox hundreds of times in my life and never noticed it? It turns out when the multiplexes became popular, the Vox closed. It became a run down nondescript building that housed a heating parts manufacturer, which of course was closed on Sundays. It wasn’t until in 2009, that Alistair Tutton purchased the building and brought back the name the Vox Theatre. Tutton remodeled the space to be used for his photography studio and an event space.

Closing reflections from Brenda:

As a kid I always thought it was so weird to drive all the way down there (SW Blvd) for church. It was actually only a 15-20 minute drive (if we beat the train😉) but it seemed a world away from my childhood in Northeast JoCo. Of course, looking back, so much of who I am was shaped by the same God that shows up anywhere two or more are gathered in his name. And more importantly, God needed the Beachey family to “do church” in that Rosedale KCK neighborhood.  Today, I am so thankful for God’s grace throughout my faith journey and for all the wonderful congregations I have been fortunate be be a part of; not the least of which was my upbringing at the old stone church on Southwest Blvd, outside the suburban bubble.

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A Father’s Day to remember

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Timothy Harder

On Father’s Day, June 15, 1986, my 13 year old brother Timothy died as a result of drowning. Timmy suffered from epilepsy probably due to a brain injury at birth. It is believed he had a seizure while swimming, which contributed to his death.

If Timmy was still alive today, he would be 44 years old. So as we approach Father’s Day, I can’t help but wonder if he would have ever married and/or been a father.

Recently my parents gave me a box of old pictures and letters, and in this box was a booklet of reflections, poems, and memories written during the week following Tim’s death. I especially treasured looking through the letters my mom wrote to me in the days after Tim’s death, making careful and detailed observations about how I was processing death at such a young age (I was seven). But it was my dad’s piece called “The Boulder” that was especially meaningful to read.

Here it is below as well as some updated comments from my dad.

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The Boulder

The boulder is huge, beyond the scope of human eyes. It fills its corner of the universe. It appears to have no crack or crevice. Perfection demands that it have no fault or seam; no root or drip permitted to penetrate its surface or threaten its core.

The boulder has its own reason for being and logic of movement. Its origins are unknown and its ways beyond knowing.

In closer view, the boulder’s cracks and crevices are revealed; its surface is scarred and pocked. And living things of all kinds find refuge in its imperfection. There are large crevices teeming with life. There are small crevices with weak and sick creatures huddled against one another for warmth and comfort. Life has taken root on the boulder and penetrates beneath its surface.

And then the boulder groans and shifts. Cracks and crevices are filled and life is crushed. Water and rock rush in to sever the tender tether of life. Bones are crushed and lungs without gills are filled with death. There is no warning, no protection. Big crevices and small, comfortable and sparse are sealed up in a moment, forever.

At the same time, new crevices are created; old ones improved. New timbers are erected; debris removed. Survivors seek to discover the rhythm of the boulder’s deadly dance and look for new secrets unlocked by its latest rumble. They bury their dead. Some rage, others bow; neither will alter the boulder’s relentless course.

Why does the boulder tolerate life it so carelessly and continuously crushes? Where did the creatures come from? Why do they keep their restless vigil for such a host? Is there purpose and understanding? Is the only purpose of one life to reach the next? Is there no protection to be found?

The questions go unanswered. Still, there is an unseen but not unknown solace. The creatures mourn and they comfort each other. They turn again to the task of enriching their surviving. They bend to the higher will of their existence. they follow an order that yields life and destroys it. And the boulder, too, groans and weeps for its victims. Its tears nurtures new life.

So life on the boulder goes on. The boulder will dance again and more living things will perish. Water still flows. Each dance creates new crevices and enlarges others and the roots of life penetrate ever deeper into the skin of the boulder.

And now, 31 years later, here are some additional comments from my dad:

I don’t recall all the circumstances that caused me to write this piece ten days after Tim died. I was trying to cope with the experience and trying to make sense of it from a perspective of faith. I remember a local pastor who was with us in the hospital waiting room trying to assure us that God was with us and with Tim and my blurting out, “a lot of good that did him (Tim).” I was struggling then and still struggle with the notion of providence and with tying to determine where God is in times like these.

The Boulder was /is the best that I can do with these questions. The world and life upon it is that boulder. In my experience, especially in the aftermath of Tim’s death, the boulder is hard, uncaring and capricious. It just is. It tolerates its inhabitants but does not care for them.

If the boulder operates without any discernible purpose, of course, there will be random acts of destruction and death. Stuff just happens.

The only solace is in the way that creatures inhabiting the boulder persist and persevere and care for each other. Random acts of kindness also happen.

As I read this piece again I noticed that the apparent random, capricious and sometimes deadly movements of the boulder are described as a “dance.” I think this metaphor came from our watching the technician in the cemetery gracefully moving around the grave as he lowered the casket into the grave and thinking of his movements as a dance. I found his movements strangely comforting.

Dance seems to connote purposeful action. So maybe the earth and the other boulders (planets) in the universe are guided by some larger purpose. I don’t know. I doubt it. But maybe there is still the possibility of purposeful action within the randomness of the universe. I hope so.

I hope so too, Dad.

Love you and Happy Father’s Day.

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Sometimes tangled, always interconnected

I know a pastor who calls herself a “web walker.” She sees all of life as this infinite web of invisible threads and energies. Her calling, as she sees it, is to tend to a particular and yet important part of this massive web (a congregation), watching for web tangles and blocked energy—places where resources or people aren’t reaching their full potential. In her role as Web Walker in Chief, she hopes to encourage healthy connections and networks between diverse peoples and resources so that the congregational and therefore communal web remains strong, vibrant, and durable. Sometimes this means calling people out on behavior that is harming the larger network. Sometimes it means stepping back and appreciating the sheer beauty of this web, giving thanks for the benevolent energy, which many name as God, pulsing through this infinite web.

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While I’m inspired by this image of a pastor being a web walker, I don’t see myself standing outside this web as some kind of neutral observer. I am just as much part of this web as the next person. I’m just as prone as everyone else to get tangled and twisted when it comes to relating to and working alongside people of diverse backgrounds and identities. As hard as it is to admit, I can just as easily be the one who blocks potential in others or who fails to see and utilize resources. I don’t always possess an attitude of gratitude, taking time to appreciate the beauty all around us and inherent in each person.

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These are thoughts that came to mind recently as I watched church and community members work together on an outdoor interactive, public art activity known as the Unity Project. A massive web-like structure was set up on our church property using poles and yarn.

People of all ages were encouraged to claim who they felt they were in this web of life, by weaving yarn around the poles or identifiers that best described them. People had a chance to express something about their political and religious affiliations as well as other interests and preferences and life circumstances. (e.g. I am a parent, I have a disability, I believe (or don’t) believe in a higher power.)

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It was beautiful to watch church and community members weaving past each other, claiming who they were in what appeared to be a judgement-free space. So often who we affiliate with or how we self-identify can unite us with some, but separate us from others. And yet during this particular activity, one sees that while we remain different, while we orientate around different “poles,” we are still part of one infinite web of creation.

As my 10-year old niece walked with a bundle of yarn in hand, she announced that she felt lost and she didn’t know where to go. I wanted to tell her that I too felt lost a lot of times, not knowing where to go, how to identify, and who or what to affiliate with. Life, I wanted to tell her, can feel like a tangled mess at times and figuring out how best to treat ourselves and others in this mess is difficult to be sure.

When we finished and stepped back, she put her arm around me and said, “It’s pretty. Maybe I’ll do this in my bedroom.” I think that’s a great idea, I told her. What if we all had some visual reminder before we went to sleep of this tangled, beautiful web that is life? What if we imagined ourselves as thriving, vibrant threads in this infinite web, and what if we imagined working to give others, especially those different than us, that same potential? And finally, what if we imagined God as the benevolent energy holding all threads together, giving all of us more potential and resources than we could ever ask or imagine?

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Place. People. Play.

The place we call Whitmore Playground will be buzzing with people playing on Saturday night, June 3. There will be live music, free food, and activities for all ages. Join us if you can!
Whitmore Jubilee Flyer-01

Here are some frequently asked questions about this event:

What time should we arrive and what can we expect to do, see, hear, and eat when we arrive?  
The event is slated to begin at 5 pm and continue until 8 pm. A free, catered meal will be provided by Two guys and a grill. Live music will be provided by The Good Hearts as well as The Rosedale Jazz Quintet, of which Rainbow trumpeter Aaron Linscheid is a member.

Art activities will include chalk painting, outdoor water color easels, and colored rock patterns. Movement activities will feature walking a temporary labyrinth and an interactive public art project called Unity.  See this video for more information.

Why are we calling it a Jubilee?
Jubilee is a word that can mean celebration or freedom. In Biblical terms it can refer to a cancellation of debt and/or redistribution of land. So why not call this a Jubilee as the common ground we call Whitmore Playground turns 40 years old in June?

Jubilee is also the name of a colorful and energetic children’s book by Tim Ladwig which is a story set in a park. We tried to get Tim here for the celebration, but his work schedule didn’t allow for it. Fortunately Tim sent us this image in case we would ever be inspired to paint this as a mural in the playground.

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How much is this costing? Who is paying for all the food, live music, and activities?
This is a free event! Earlier this year we received a Vital Worship Grant from Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They provided us “play money” as we spent the year exploring our outdoor spaces in new, hopefully worshipful ways.

Again, we hope you can join us. And bring your friends and neighbors! We’ll have enough food for at least 500 people, or so I am told.

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If I were a butterfly

Today I walked out to the newly installed butterfly garden in Whitmore Playground.  I didn’t see any butterflies, but I saw the promise of butterflies to come.

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This butterfly garden was planted in honor of Bernita Boyts.

According to friend and long-time playground committee member Judy Selzer, while Bernita was still living she had talked about wanting a butterfly garden in the playground. Then, when memorial money was given in her name for the Whitmore playground this seemed like the natural thing to use it for. Judy writes, “Bernita always loved nature. The beauty and elegance of a butterfly reminded us of her.”

The three large rocks in the butterfly garden were provided by Bernita several years ago.

I only met Bernita in person a couple of times before she died and yet, people still talk about Bernita in the present tense. For example, here are some beautiful reflections about Bernita, butterflies, and nature.

From Wanda Lowenstein: “My experience with Bernita involved an ongoing questioning of the status quo—always seeking to understand and grow.  It’s my sense that nature provided an opportunity  for her to let go of the questioning and just enjoy the beauty and wonder of the transformative power of nature.”
From Anne Brady Bloos: “…When I first met Bernita it was in her backyard garden, which she had shaped and tended for years. I was a fledgling gardener, full of questions, and she was generous in sharing what she had learned. Here was someone who was clearly alive to beauty! Her garden was filled with colorful blooms and twisting vines. It was buzzing with pollinators — exuberant and full of life. The design and plant choices reflected her passion; she was not bound by any gardening rulebook. She had a creative, experimental approach, letting nature and beauty be her guides. The words “down-to-Earth” come to mind when I think of Bernita — the phrase describes her humor and her approach to gardening.  I would hope a garden in her name would reflect the qualities Bernita brought to the endeavor: her creativity, love of beauty, respect for nature, and desire to share all of this with others. Ideally, Bernita‘s Butterfly Garden will give a variety of butterflies sustenance and shelter to complete their brief sojourn here. It will offer its human visitors an opportunity to notice the singular and intricate beauty of flowers and butterflies — one small example of the abundant gifts the earth offers us every day.”
Judy Selzer: “Bernita would say ‘take off your shoes and walk in the grass with me. It helps to ground you.’

To Judy and Wendell, Wanda, Anne, Annie, June, and many others who have contributed to this garden, I say thank you. May this be a lasting tribute to Bernita whose life lives on in the stories we tell and in the care we offer creatures both large and small, those whose feet walk the earth and those whose wings carry them to the skies.

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Bernita and Hal Boyts of Hesston KS

PS: Have you noticed the folded paper butterflies hanging around the sanctuary? There are 10 in all. See if you can find them this coming Sunday!

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Art in/as Sacred Space

Today I wish to give a special shout out to those who have worked so diligently on the Art in Our Sacred Spaces book that catalogs our current art collection at Rainbow.

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We will celebrate and dedicate this book and project this coming Sunday, April 30 at 4 pm. So if you want to learn more about the art at Rainbow (both indoors and outdoors), join us! A powerpoint presentation of this tour will also be shown in Fellowship Hall for those who choose to stay in one place for this “walking tour.”

What follows is the introduction that I wrote for this book.

I spend a lot of time contemplating the beauty of the spoken and written word. And yet it is often while walking around our church building and grounds that I feel an extra sense of awe and wonder. That’s the gift of beautiful images—they often draw us to God, the source of all beauty, in ways the written and spoken word falls short.

That being said, Mennonites have at times been squeamish about visual arts in sacred space. Some have taken the Biblical prohibition against making graven images to mean that visual images are at best a distraction for Christians. Mennonite artist Bob Regier offers this helpful historical perspective on this subject of art in sacred space:

“There is a rich symbol tradition in the Christian church, reaching back to the early church and coming into full flower in the Gothic and Renaissance periods of the 12th through the 15th centuries. The Protestant Reformation interrupted this flowering. The reaction to the excesses, the opulence, and the misuse of power within the church swept away the rich visual traditions of painting and sculpture that were so completely integrated into the architecture and liturgy of the church. Indeed, there were excesses that needed abandonment or correction. But in retrospect we now see that this might have been another example of throwing out the baby with the bath water. In our own Mennonite tradition, especially, the primacy of the spoken word and healthy suspicion of embellishment swept aside any visual elaboration within our worship spaces. The visual symbol was suspect. While the visual arts in the church all but disappeared, with a few notable exceptions such as Jan Lluyken’s illustrations for The Martyr’s Mirror, music remained as a powerful non-verbal medium of expression. Slowly, the power of color, shape, texture, and line has returned to take its place alongside music and the spoken word. We are no longer afraid to allow all of our senses to be engaged in the worship experience.”

This is certainly true at Rainbow, a place that is alive with art of all kinds!

And so whether you join us on Sunday or not, here is an art-full prayer for us to consider written by John Johansen-Berg.

Divine Creator, your works delight us with sight, scent, and sound, bringing sensations of joy to all living creatures. We ask your blessing on all those whose creativity gives a reflection of your handiwork in the universe. Give inspiration to those whose use of paint and texture harmonizes colors and shapes with subtle interpretation; may they bring an extra dimension into the minds of those who view their art with pleasure.
We give thanks for those who work and mould the clay,
chisel and shape the stone and iron, carve and smooth the wood,
to make exquisite sculptures
which delight the heart and mind.
Heavenly Artist,
bless the painters, sculptors
whose creative gifts are a source of blessing for others.
Sneed Commitment to Community

Illustration near east staircase by Brad Sneed called “Commitment To Community”

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Easter shenanigans

As a young girl I remember overhearing a church visitor say that you can always spot a pastor in a room because they the ones who don’t look like are having any fun. I probably remember this so well because my dad happened to be the not-having-fun-pastor this visitor was talking about. Now I’m the pastor who is well aware of the occupational hazard of taking myself, my work, and life too seriously. Perhaps that is why I sometimes ask worship leaders to bring a joke to share with me before worship begins. My favorite one so far is this: “Ruth, how do priests make holy water?” Answer: “They boil the hell out of it.”

In a growing number of Christian churches, the Sunday after Easter is a time to tell jokes in church and play practical jokes on the pastor, probably because in general, pastors could probably lighten up a bit. Maybe we could all lighten up a bit at times. And what better time to do that than the Sunday after Easter, after God played the most epic joke of all on death?
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Therefore this coming Sunday we at Rainbow will be joining the ranks of Christians who will observe Holy Humor Sunday, or Laughter Sunday, or Holy Hilarity Sunday. The witty Mike Horner will bring the teaching called “Grocery Gospel,” there will be a time of sharing bulletin bloopers, and the organ will be joined by the kazoo (or the other way around). Meanwhile, the pastor will be out of town this weekend creating some of her own post-Easter shenanigans—details of which you will never know.

As we prepare for Sunday, consider these affirmations of humor compiled by Rev. Chris Anderson:

A Communion of Saints
Affirmation of Humor

Ecclesiastes:
“there is a time to weep and a time to laugh.”

Chrysostom:
“laughter has been implanted in our souls.”

Aquinas: There is a time for
“playful deeds and jokes.”

Luther:
“You have as much laughter as you have faith.”

Calvin:
“we are nowhere forbidden to laugh.”

Francis De Sales:
“humor is a foundation for reconciliation.”

Wesley:
“A sour religion is the devil’s religion.”

Kierkegaard:
“Humor is intrinsic to Christianity.”

Dostoevsky:
“If a person laughs well they are a good person.”

Chesterton:
“A good joke is the closest thing we have to divine revelation.”

Bonhoeffer:
“Ultimate seriousness is not without a dose of humor.”

Fulton Sheen:
“The only time laughter is wicked is when it is turned against he who gave it.”

Flannery O’Conner:
“Christianity is a strangely cheery religion.”

Elton Trueblood:
“Never trust a theologian without a sense of humor.”

Charles Schultz:
“Humor is proof that everything is going to be alright with God nevertheless.”

Krister Stendhal:
“humor, along with irony, forms a safeguard against idolatry.”

Eric Gritsch:
“Humor is thus anchored in a self-knowledge that indicates one’s limitations.”

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