Entering God’s courts

I interrupt this regularly scheduled program for a short sports reflection. 

The transition from high school basketball to collegiate play wasn’t easy. Unlike in high school, I was often the shortest player on the court in college. Sure, I was quick and strong for my size, but I had to make a lot of adjustments and improvements to my game if I stood any chance of playing.  

Thankfully my coach Floyd (pictured here), took time with me and shaped me into a decent college basketball point guard. Mostly I credit him for teaching me the magic of the bounce pass. And thanks to Floyd (and the bounce pass), I came to love the game in a whole new way. Assists became just as golden as points. 

Fast forward 23 years later.

Last night I was once again by Floyd’s side. But this time, I was in a chair and he was lying in his hospital bed at home. I was there to say goodbye, to wish him sweet peace, to tell him I’d look for him on the other side—in that heavenly “court.”

The stroke he suffered two years ago didn’t allow him to say anything in return, but the squeeze of his hand and the kind eyes looking back at me communicated a lot.  

During visits with him over these past two years, I reminded him that just as he helped me adjust to college play, I wanted to offer any support I could as he learned to adjust to life post-stroke. Floyd’s family, an A TEAM if there ever was one, welcomed me to visit whenever I could.

Nothing has been easy about the past two years and everyone who has been on Team Floyd knows he is ready to rest. “You can go, Dad,” daughter Katie said (also a coach). “We are going to be ok.”

I added that I thought Floyd was going to be ok too. He squeezed my hand one final time.

God speed, Coach.

 

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Black Lives Matter

Dear Rainbow friends, members, and attenders:

Will you join me in saying, unequivocally, that Black Lives Matter? And will you join me in working so that these aren’t just words spoken, but a commitment lived toward a more anti-racist country and world?

For me, Black Lives Matter brings attention to the reality that for too long in this country, black lives haven’t mattered to the same degree as white lives. Black lives are treated differently and are often subjected to prejudice, inequality, and racist policies in all sectors of life, yes, even in churches.

I am frankly appalled by what I continue to learn about racist policies and attitudes undergirding this country. I am appalled by my own slowness in learning.  Racism cuts deep in our country and in the Christian church. It’s in the air we breathe. It’s in how we read and apply the Bible. No matter how progressive or non-racist we think we are, white people like me simply have blinders—blinders that cannot and will not be transformed without great intentionality, accountability, and humility.

I therefore humbly ask that you keep me accountable as Rainbow’s pastor, as I recommit toward becoming more anti-racist. And I hope and pray that we will be accountable to one another and to God as we walk this road toward becoming more anti-racist as a church. We are all at different points on this road and I’m grateful to have a church like Rainbow to walk this road with.

Progress is never linear. The road to becoming anti-racist will be long and arduous, but also  healing—leading to greater freedom and humanity for all races. May Rainbow continue to be a “school” to this end, as articulated by Rainbow’s first pastor, Stan Bohn, who recently said the following as he reflected on his time in Kansas City in the late 50s and 60s:

“I was invited to join NAACP. I was one of two white people who went to meetings. That was an education. I ended up picketing a store—things I hadn’t grown up doing…When I first went to KC, I thought of Mennonites being mediators and in a few years I realized, no, you take sides. You pick which side you are on and then you relate in a Christian way. You don’t stand as a third party outside of the conflicts.”

In many years from now, when we are asked to take account of how we acted and used our time during this period, what will we say? 

Sadly, I recognize these are still just words. Therefore, I will spend time in the coming weeks and months working with committees, such as Rainbow’s Peace and Social Justice Committee, to discern actionable steps. Hopefully we will all find ways of putting into practice this goal, as adopted in 2018 by the Rainbow congregation: Foster a relevant peace church tradition in the 21st century informed by the study of scripture and current societal challenges such as racism, gun violence, immigration and socioeconomic biases and disparities.

God be with us all in this work. May God confront our blinders and lead us toward greater healing and transformation.

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Pentecost and Black lives, flames, fumes, and tear gas

In 2015 my parents walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain. They arrived in Santiago de Compostela the morning of Pentecost after spending nearly thirty days walking-sometimes registering 15-20 miles of walking per day.

I asked my parents to reflect on that and here is what they sent me:

“We were thrilled to complete our pilgrimage and exhilarated to be in Santiago on Pentecost. At the midday worship for pilgrims we were in the packed Cathedral with hundreds of pilgrims from around the world who had also arrived in Santiago that day or in the days before Pentecost.

Tradition has it that when pilgrims arrived in Santiago they smelled so bad from days of walking without bathing that they needed to be fumigated. While they were together a giant “batafumerio” weighing 176 pounds was filled with 80 pounds of charcoal and incense and raised high above the gathered congregation where it would swing high overhead so its burning incense would literally fumigate the pilgrims, a tradition going back nearly 1000 years and still preformed to this day. So to the accompaniment of the grand organ, the batafumerio swung back and forth high overhead in the cathedral over hundreds of pilgrims. A sight and sound and smell that will stay with us forever.

The worship liturgy was in Spanish and Latin which we and probably many in this international congregation could not understand. But that did not matter. Like the first Pentecost, the language of the Spirit of God overcame our differences. We were there celebrating our safe arrival in Santiago and the welcoming love of God. We have said that we understood nothing that was spoken in that worship but at the same time, we understood everything.

I received this reflection (and video footage) early last week from my parents and I have been thinking about it all week. And then last night, as I tried to fall asleep all I could hear were sirens and all I could see when I closed my eyes were the images coming from the Kansas City Plaza, which is only a couple miles from where we live and where some of our church members live. Those gathered were fumigated with tear gas, used for the purpose of scattering and some would argue, “protecting” or “preserving order.”

I sensed early in the day yesterday based on some of the news feeds I follow that a fairly big crowd was going to gather–people were saying they’d be willing to drive 3-4 hours in order to be there to join their voices with others seeking to address racist policies in America that have seeped into everything. Color does indeed matter in so many situations. Black and brown lives and bodies are treated differently, sometimes discarded or treated “less than,” especially compared to white citizens. This happens every day in micro and macro ways. And those of us who are white may not always see it or be aware of it. So for someone who is white to say, “I’m not racist,” is not helpful. It fails to recognize what we are all saturated in. Racism is in the air we breathe, and is what is choking out so much life.

I’m trying to remind myself that in all the outrage, property damage, and looting (note that it is not always clear who is doing that and for what purpose), what remains (or what should remain) most appalling of all is the racist policies that continue to dominate so many facets and sectors of American life. And that includes the Church which includes white pastors like me who still has work to do to understand my white privilege, my place in this important work of dismantling racism within myself and within the structures I exist in.

It’s become my tradition to pour leftover juice from our Rainbow communion gatherings somewhere on church grounds. Today I’m going to walk down to the Kansas City Plaza with my chalice of leftover juice and pray while considering the wide-ranging feelings of betrayal, especially that which is experienced by people of color. And as I consider what was broken or damaged last night, I will pray that the Spirit of God will be at work breathing life into places and in peoples whose lives are literally being choked out. And that those of who are part of systems that choke lives will be cleansed by the Spirit of God too.

 

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From a friend: “Fourth day in this shirt. I’m starting to stink. Am so ANGRY.”

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Resurrection Realism

I’ve been looking for an opportunity to share this funeral reflection titled “Resurrection Realism,” written by my dad Keith Harder. And given that this Sunday’s lectionary reading is about the premier Resurrection Realist Thomas (John 20), this seemed as good as time as any to share.

First, some context: This was written for and shared at Dale Suderman’s funeral. Dale (pictured here) was my dad’s first cousin, which made Dale  my second cousin. Dale died this past January 2020 at Parkside Home in our shared hometown of Hillsboro, KS.

Something else to point out is that Dale often said he became a Christian at Rainbow Mennonite Church. He had fond memories of attending Rainbow for a short time. I wrote about that here: Becoming a Christian cynic at Rainbow I also discovered in our Mennonite Voluntary Service archives that Dale was instrumental, together with Gene Stolzfus, in helping Rainbow establish its Mennonite Voluntary Unit.

With that, here are some reflections that I believe pair nicely with our gospel reading for this Sunday:

Dale Suderman Memorial Service Meditation by Keith Harder

In a presentation shortly before his stroke called “Cynicism as Therapy,” that was published in a book called Cynicism and Hope, Dale called himself a cynic.  This word may have some negative connotations, but Dale clarified that he thought of himself as someone who was grounded in the realities of life as it is and not in idealism, or how life should be.

He recalled in this talk that when he was confirmed in the Episcopal church that the presiding Bishop instructed him and the other catechumens “not to add to the violence in the world in word, thought or deed”. Dale noted that the bishop did not tell them to stop the violence. He said, “don’t make things worse.”

This rather modest charge stood in contrast to idealists across the political spectrum who would seek to end violence, poverty or discrimination or whatever evil that was at hand and in the process impose their ideals on others and thereby justify all manner of oppression and hate.  From this stance Dale critiqued doctrinaire Marxists and the crusading Christians in the moral majority.

I hear echoes of the bishop’s word in Eccles 3 which describes life as it is, and of Jesus welcoming Cornelius without telling him to leave the Roman army or Jesus saying that the poor would be with us always. Be careful about trying to eliminate war or poverty.  Just don’t make things worse; don’t add to the violence and  poverty that is all around us. So Dale could say that he was a chastened pacifist (rather than an idealistic pacifist), a war veteran who never fired his weapon in combat. He wanted not to add to the violence that threatened to engulf the world.

Wise words for idealists of all stripes, be they conservative or liberal,

At Parkside where Dale lived the last eleven years, someone put a floor to ceiling poster on one wall where Dale took his meals. The words we heard earlier from John 11 were on that poster. “I am the resurrection and the life, Those who believe in me will live even though they die.”

One day Dale asked a friend of his to take his picture kneeling in front of that poster. When his friend asked him why, Dale made it clear that this was the promise for which he was preparing. He was ready to die, and these words from John were the focus of his hope. This may be the closest we have to Dale’s last testament and testimony: His hope and belief that he would live even though he would die, through the resurrection of Jesus.

In a similar vein Dale’s sister Elva said he had recently asked her what she thought heaven was like. She said she was confident it would be a lot better than what they were experiencing now and he said in a loud voice that he wanted to go to heaven.

I have thought a lot about these two themes in Dale’s life – his calling himself a cynic and his faith in resurrection. One might think they were in conflict. What could a cynic say about resurrection? Would a cynic believe in resurrection? Another example perhaps of Dale holding disparate ideas together, letting one inform the other.

Those who knew Dale recognized that resurrection informed Dale’s life not just his death. Heaven was more than a destination; resurrection hope was more than fuzzy idealism. At the end it was the hope by which he lived.

Hear more of Dale’s testimony in his own words from the presentation I mentioned at the beginning.

“[Sunday morning] I will go to church and we will get on our knees and ask for forgiveness and admit that we have sinned in thought or deed because we are people who admit that sin exists both in us and around us. And we will affirm our hope as we do every Sunday: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again…. This Christ centered understanding of history is our hope. Our idealisms, ideologies, and social constructs are myopic (shortsighted, narrow, limited): we see through a glass made darkly ironic and paradoxical by our inability to see our own eyeballs. We are certain that the church is eternal, but we are equally certain that it is made up of broken persons….

Dale continued: “The communion rail is ironic and moving… From generals to peace activists, gay men and homophobes, the economic elite of the city to the dispossessed of the city, we will leave our pews and genuflect and walk down the aisle to accept bread and wine at the communion table. In doing this, we recognize that we are participating in a larger cosmic drama going beyond our personal lives and beyond historical events.”

Dale had an uncommon sense of that “cosmic drama’, an uncommon capacity to see beyond immediate needs, desires or causes.

Dale continued: “And then the benediction will be cited by a deacon, with one portion of the stole going across the deacon’s front then tied at the side to symbolize moving freely on the streets as a servant of Christ. [The deacon will say] ‘Send us now into the world in peace.’ [And] We will say, ‘and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart, through Christ our Lord.’ Dale noted that this does not say “to save the world.” We are just to move through it as servants, deacons and emissaries.”

Finally, Dale said, “For nearly a decade this benediction has been posted just beyond my computer where my clients cannot see it… but I look at it nearly every hour as I speak to people. The church is my hope.”

Dale’s last years were more difficult than any of us can imagine – cut off as he was from the work he loved, from lively conversation, from the city he loved, from friends he loved deeply. He would sometimes cry out in pain and frustration, especially when he couldn’t say what he was thinking, but through it all, he seemed to maintain a kind of graceful equanimity, a contentment that always amazed me. I suspect that it was a sense of this cosmic drama that sustained him. It provided a frame for his loss and suffering that kept it from being overwhelming.

While expressing our love and respect for Dale, people are sometimes quick to note that he was not a saint. By this we mean that Dale was not perfect; he had faults which he would be the first to acknowledge. He lived largely, fearlessly and sometimes recklessly. But I believe that actually he was a saint, as are all who profess their confidence in the love of God expressed in the resurrection of Jesus. I sense this is what Dale would want us to celebrate today. For this let us give thanks to God.

January 18, 2020

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Easter online

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DIY branches for Palm Sunday

Quarantine means Do It Yourself (DIY) Palm Branch time!

I love each of these.

 

Here is the full guided worship video for April 5:

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Prayers for these times

Last night we had our first live-stream Rainbow worship gathering. You can find the recording here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6aQzyYF0quBZBz1a-OJksg

We are going to try and do this every Wednesday at 5:45 pm for the foreseeable future. Hopefully some of us can work that in our ever-changing schedules.

For those who would rather read, here is what I tried to convey:

Hello to all, gathered near and far.  At Rainbow we have congregants living in Ireland (Hello to Erin and Aaron, Rory and Nathan!) and Australia (Hello to Freddy Rhoads and family!), Japan (Hello Kate Duncan), and Hawaii (Hello Bill Duncan and family!)

Former Mennonite Voluntary Service worker, Eba, sent this note from Africa:

“Thank you for remembering me and saying hi. I’m taking the necessary measures to keep my family safe. Africa had the lowest cases over the past weeks but now the numbers are starting to rise and our government closed schools and public gatherings. My sister and I enjoy walking our dog every evening, at least until we are asked to stay home, Peace, Eba.”

We are also spread out in the United States. We heard this week from Anna Marie Petersen in Wayland, IA, and Ralph and Laurel Kaufman in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Their retirement community is locked down.) Caitlin Buerge, a traveling pediatric nurse, is waiting to see if she’ll be called and asked to take care of adult patents. Christian Buller is taking classes remotely, helping his sister Sarah and John with childcare. Dustin and Robert are hunkered down in St. Louis. The list goes on. Hello to all!

We are probably all checking in with loved ones near and far. Please feel free to share your prayer requests and concerns with the Deacons or me.  Speaking of Deacons, we thank those who have offered to run errands or bring groceries to people. And we want to thank our medical professionals and those in the social service mental health world who are responding to people’s distress. We have members working in clinics, hospitals, prisons, homes, as social workers, therapists, nurses, doctors, surgeons, teachers, and advocates of many kinds.

The ripple effects are rather astounding when you think about it. Trips are being canceled, spring break plans are changing by the hour. I think of all of you parents out there with kids at home. You are figuring out childcare or child activities as you work from home or out of home.We know a lot of school-aged children depend on food that they get at schools. We are currently figuring out how to make Harvester Backsnack deliveries available to our community children.

Many of us also have parents or grandparents who are vulnerable, isolated, and lonely. And many of us have already comprised immune systems or other health concerns.  And many are concerned about losing their jobs, businesses, or losing retirement funds.

So yes, these are concerning and challenging times.

Let’s take a deep breath collectively.

Here is a reading by Brother Richard Hendrick called “Lockdown.”

Yes there is fear. Yes there is isolation. Yes there is panic buying. Yes there is sickness. Yes there is even death. But, they say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise you can hear the birds again. They say that after just a few weeks of quiet the sky is no longer thick with fumes, but blue and grey and clear. They say that in the streets of Assisi people are singing to each other across the empty squares, keeping their windows open so that those who are alone may hear the sounds of family around them. They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.

Today a young woman I know is busy spreading fliers with her number through the neighbourhood so that the elders may have someone to call on. Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples are preparing to welcome and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary. All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting. All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way. All over the world people are waking up to a new reality to how big we really are; to how little control we really have; to what really matters; to Love.

So we pray and we remember that Yes there is fear, but there does not have to be hate. Yes there is isolation, but there does not have to be loneliness. Yes there is panic buying, but there does not have to be meanness. Yes there is sickness, but there does not have to be disease of the soul. Yes there is even death, but there can always be a rebirth of love.

Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now. Today, breathe. Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic. The birds are singing again, the sky is clearing. Spring is coming, and we are always encompassed by Love. Open the windows of your soul and though you may not be able to touch across the empty square, Sing.

And for further reflections on Psalm 91, click here:  In the trenches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rainbow Radio Hour!

Welcome to Rainbow Radio Hour sponsored by your favorite brand of hand sanitizer.

Missing you all. Now open your Bibles to John chapter 4…..


 

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From ashes to the living fount, the church journeys still

At Rainbow we will begin the season of Lent with an Ash Wednesday Service, February 26, at 5:45 pm. During this 40 day period (not including Sundays), we start with ash and move toward the living fount of resurrected life.  Join us!

“They are a curious thing, ashes; they are terrible and remarkable by turns,” writes Jan Richardson. “Ashes come as a reminder of the ways that humans across history have been horrible to one another, of how we have, with an awful finesse, reduced to literal ashes one another’s homes, buildings, cities, histories, and very bodies. Ashes can also be a thing of wonder. Ashes—dust, dirt, earth—are the stuff from which we have been made, and to which we will return. Ash Wednesday, and the season it heralds, seeks to ground us, to make us mindful of the humus, the humility, the earthiness of which our bones and flesh are made. And yet, in the midst of this, the season calls us to open ourselves to the God who brings life from ashes, who works wonders amid destruction, who cries out and grieves in the presence of devastation and terror, and who breathes God’s own spirit into the rubble. It is this God who breathes into us, calling our awful and glorious ash-strewn selves to speak words of life and freedom and healing amid violence and pain.”

 

To take the sign of the cross
means to allow oneself  to be stretched out wide
in solidarity with the Christ and in compassion for all, even at cost,
and to believe against defeat and despair
that hope can rise and life begin again.

-Liturgy of Ashes

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Ruebens and Pacifism

A guest blog post entry by none other than my spouse, Jesse Graber. I should note that both Jesse and I are Bethel College graduates.

On a Wednesday night quest to find a Rueben sandwich for my wife, I stopped by Browne’s Irish Marketplace.  It was late, and the place was practically empty.

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As the guy behind the deli was making my sandwiches he was talking to the only other person there about where they went to high school. The other guy looks at me and asks where I went to high school. I shrugged and told him I was from central Kansas and he’s never heard of it, but he asked where, so I told him I went to Newton High. Close to Wichita.

He told me he knows Newton. He went to Bethel College, in fact. He said he grew up in Junction City and followed a girl to Bethel. The first day of class another student was looking at his shirt. He knew this meant he’d have to fight him, even though he was some big farm kid. So he gets all in his face and yells “WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT? YOU WANT TO GO?” The other kid looked horrified and said no, he was just trying to read his shirt, he was a pacifist, and he didn’t want to fight.

“THAT’S RIGHT YOU DON’T” my new rueben friend said. He acted tough, but was pretty relieved. Later he went back to his roommate and asked “…What’s a pacifist?”

My rueben friend said he grew up fighting, but Bethel taught him a new vibe.

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