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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Starting again

It’s spring in KS, which means it’s prairie burning time. I know it’s coming every April, and yet I’m always caught off guard. (I can only imagine how many 911 calls are placed by out-of-towners who have never heard of these prescribed or “controlled” prairie burns.)

The smoke, the crackling sounds along the roadside, the orange flames dancing on the horizon as tall as trees, the charred landscape feel almost apocalyptic, as if one has been teleported to a scorched and deserted planet. At least that is how I felt recently, when at dusk, I found myself on Middle Creek Road. I stopped to take in the eerily beautiful site (and inhale a bunch of smoke).

 

The conditions were perfect that day—the wind was just right, the grass was dry, and the soil was moist, which allows the deep roots of the grasses to survive. I could see a team on the horizon buzzing around on four-wheelers for this almost choreographed-like-dance of regeneration. A few days later, our own stretch of prairie was burned and my brother, with help from his drone, captured this footage:

Prescribed prairie burns are not without controversy. It results in poor air quality alerts impacting cities like Kansas City and even places in Nebraska. The fires also displace some wildlife, at least momentarily. But overall, even the most passionate environmentalists understand the value of these annual burns—namely managing weeds and woody vegetation like pesky cedar trees. And the fires promote new growth, something Native Americans knew to be true. New growth meant better grass, which meant increased bison.

Every year I marvel at how quickly the prairie regenerates itself following the burn. The burnt grass becomes soil nutrients, and there is rapid regrowth as a result—as early as two weeks. Pretty soon wildflowers—pure gifts of nature—will start appearing and the tall grass prairie, an endangered ecosystem, is reborn.

Perhaps there is a sabbatical metaphor in all this. Sabbaticals, after all, are hoped-for times of regeneration and new growth—a time of clearing away the pesky weeds of heart, mind, and soul. A time to commune again with the Regenerative One, Jesus, who came to baptize us not only with water, but with fire (Luke 3:16). And even though this has been a personally regenerative time, I have also directed much thought and prayer toward what makes for healthy ecosystems—what makes for a healthy, thriving church. What conditions create the necessary nutrients for regeneration? How might we be reborn over and over, in the light (and fire) of Christ?

I’ll look forward to sharing more in the coming weeks. For now I’ll say I’ve missed Rainbow, and I hope I’ve been missed, at least a little 🙂

And I’ll close with this beautiful quote by Hannah Becker. I look forward, once again, to being part of the “flaming” Rainbow and concerted teamwork—being about the delicate, important matter of regeneration. Hopefully 911 won’t need to be called in the process.

“There’s an intense rainbow of flaming colors, you hear sounds of fire rippling through the dead brush and you can see the concerted teamwork of burn attendees as they carefully coordinate the delicate matter of setting hundreds of acres of fire. It’s quite breathtaking.”- Hannah Becker from Kansas Living Magazine

 

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Hello again from Minnesota

Hello from Minnesota or should I say, Minne-soooooooo-cold-a?

My three-week residency at Collegeville Institute is coming to a close. Here is a movie with pictures and narration—my own way of saying thank you for this incredible place and opportunity.

Here we come Canada!

 

 

 

 

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In the bulb

In the bulb there is a flower… unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.        -Natalie Sleeth, from the hymn “In the bulb there is a flower”

In October 2017 I traveled alone to Berkeley, CA, seeking “emotional fresh air,” and what I got instead was near-asphyxiation from the thick layer of smoke enveloping the hills of Berkeley and the entire Bay Area.

This girl from KS knows (sort of) what to do when there is a tornado, but wildfires? No clue. So when I awoke to an eerily deserted and smoke-filled neighborhood, with no transportation of my own, I panicked, threw on some clothes, grabbed a towel to put over my mouth, put in my earphones, and raced toward the water (with Brandi Carlile’s “Firewatcher’s Daughter” album—random coincidence— ringing in my ears).   

I found water eventually, which in turn led me to a peninsula called Albany Bulb, a place I would return to over and over during my week in Cali. With each visit, I felt the courage to venture further and further inside the peninsula, and as I did, I wondered if I had mistakingly walked through the wardrobe of Narnia.  Here are just a few photos to give you a an idea of what I stumbled upon. 

 

I love this description by Susan Moffat, from her longer article here: https://boomcalifornia.com/2017/01/01/the-battle-of-the-bulb-nature-culture-and-art-at-a-san-francisco-bay-landfill/

“Guarding the hillside crouches a giant dragon with reindeer antlers, ridden by a warrior—all made of driftwood. Along the shoreline an iron samurai wields a sword and a fifteen-foot-tall woman reaches to the sky with a beseeching gesture. Her windswept hair is made of branches, her skirts of twisted tin. Painted gargoyle faces stick their tongues out at you from truck-sized pieces of concrete. Tibetan prayer flags flutter in the distance. You can hear the tinkling and squeaking of kinetic scrap metal sculptures spinning in the breeze. Straight ahead, past cormorants perched on mouldering piers, wetlands glisten with the movements of snowy egrets, curlews, and airborne flocks of sandpipers catching the sun like tossed confetti…Dogs bark, running in and out of the water at a small beach. You smell horses and saltwater and coastal sage… An enormous red and yellow and green concrete Rubik’s cube clings to the rocky shore just above the water line, and clouds of pink, magenta, and white valerian, golden California poppies, and crimson roses spill down the causeway’s precipitous hillsides. A castle perches on a pile of rubble with a gothic arch for a window and a small turret. The castle is covered with paintings of human-sized rabbits.”

During and after each visit to the Bulb, I did some research. It used to be a landfill for construction debris. Again to quote Moffat:

“People in the small town of Albany still remember coming here in the sixties and seventies to dump their old furniture and yard waste on top of broken buildings. When nearby cities needed new highways, commuter lines, stores, schools, and houses, what was torn down got deposited at the Bulb. Because the landfill was never completely capped, it is an open-air museum of creative destruction exhibiting huge chunks of brick walls, bathroom tile, highway supports, rebar, and asphalt with yellow highway lines intact.”

There’s more. Had I ventured to Albany Bulb a couple years earlier, I would have found a community of more than sixty people living on the Bulb in tents, shacks, or as the Bulb residents called them, “cliffside mansions.” After all, who wouldn’t want this million-dollar view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate, all for free. 

Again, Moffat:

“It provided refuge for people struggling with trauma and mental illness who preferred living outdoors to the claustrophobia and social threats of shelters. Amber and her partner, Phyll, built a compound of tents hidden by a scrap metal fence. “When you live indoors, nothing moves,” said Amber, who had a quick smile with no front teeth, a wardrobe of camouflage and black lace, an archaeologist’s eye for half-buried treasure, and an impressive knack for reviving laptops and mobile phones pulled out of dumpsters. The Bulb’s wind, the tides, and the movement of the grass and trees kept her sane: “The Bulb is the healthiest place I’ve ever lived.”

It’s no wonder that Albany Bulb has long been a place where people from all over memorialize the deceased via various shrines, sculptures, cairns, and labyrinths. One sees scraps and remnants of people’s lives littered and/or carefully placed all throughout Albany Bulb. 

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And it was here, at this labyrinth, (pictured above), with Brandi Carlile still in my ears, asking why it is we so often remember what we want to forget, where I finally received some much-needed emotional fresh air. I was grieving the death (and actions) of someone I had grown to care about (and fear). I was on my own wild and somewhat emotional peninsula of sorts, and somehow the debris, chaos, and beauty of Albany Bulb was just the right place for me to express some of my fears, regrets, anger, pain, love, grief, and shattered confidence. I walked the labyrinth and got into a beseeching posture alongside my new fifteen-foot-tall lady friend (see movie below). I built cairns, took photos, cried,  pretended to be a dragon-flying warrior, and breathed in the smell of sage. Perhaps I could find a way to remember in ways that didn’t feel so scary and guilt-inducing. 

In her song “The Things I regret,” Carlile suggests that when the weight of it all rests on our back, and the road seems cracked—to keep pressing forward, with feet on the ground.  So I kept walking and I kept beseeching, and eventually found my way back home (both up the hills to my guest house in Berkeley and back to my loving home and community in KS). 

So thank you Brandi, thank you to the one (you know who you are) who gave me frequent flyer miles for this trip, thank you to my Berkeley hosts, and thank you Natalie Sleeth for a hymn that will forever be linked to my time at Albany Bulb. (And my husband for playing it in the video below.) 

There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me. From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.  

 

PS The 2017 (and 2018) California wildfires were (and continue to be) devastating. In fact, living next to me currently is a Buddhist monk who was in the middle of the California fires in 2017, helping his fellow monastery members and neighbors escape the flames. A reflection for another day.

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Hello from Apartment 9 on Ecumenical Drive

It begins—my long-awaited three-week writing residency with Collegeville Institute, located on Ecumenical Drive on the campus of St. John’s University, Minnesota. I’m here with about 10 other residents (theologians, pastors, artists, professors—you know, the general trouble making type.) I haven’t met anybody yet, as we have all been instructed to STAY INSIDE if we can help it. (When I finally ventured to the abbey yesterday, even the monks were missing in action.)

The last time I was here, over six years ago, it was July and sunny. As I write it is -30 degrees.

Saint John’s University is a liberal arts college for men. (The women’s college, College of Saint Benedict, is about four miles from St. John’s.)  St. John’s is also a Catholic seminary for priesthood candidates.  The Abbey and University Church is one of the most visually interesting abbey’s I’ve ever seen. You can take a virtual tour of the campus here: http://virtualtour.csbsju.edu

Liturgical Press, a publisher of liturgy and worship resources, also resides on campus, as well as a co-ed graduate school of theology. St. John’s is also known for its role in commissioning the Saint John’s Bible, the first illuminated, hand-written Bible in more than 500 years. As soon as this polar vortex passes, I look forward to seeing several of the original pages on exhibit here.   

And then there is Collegeville Institute, the residential ecumenical/theological center where I am staying. 

Collegeville was founded by a monk of Saint John’s Abbey, Father Kilian McDonnel. Today Collegeville is an autonomous part of the St. John’s campus/community. Its mission is to bring together a variety of people (writers, scholars, artists, professionals, corporate leaders, etc) for the purpose of study, prayer, reflection, writing, and dialogue across religious and faith experiences. 

Krista Tippett, whose “Becoming Wise” book I’m currently reading, writes about her time at Collegeville in the mid-1990’s:

“I began to learn an art of conversation about undergirding truths from the Benedictine monks of St. John’s Abbey of Collegeville…These Benedictines had founded a quiet but mighty institute for ecumenical and cultural research in the 1960s, when the notion of Catholics and Protestants in relationship was a now unimaginably daring move. It became a seedbed of cross-religious ferment for the latter half of the twentieth century.”

That’s because, as Tippett describes, at Collegeville the focus in on storytelling, conversation, and asking questions. “In Collegeville,” she writes, “discussion about a large, meaty, theological subject began by framing it as a question, and then asking everyone around the table to begin to answer the question through the story of their lives: Who is God? What is prayer? How to approach the problem of evil? What is the content of Christian hope? I can disagree with your opinion, it turns out, but I can’t disagree with your experience. And once I have a sense of your experience, you and I are in relationship, acknowledging the complexity in each other’s position, listening less guardedly. The difference in our opinions will probably remain intact, but it no longer defines what is possible between us.” 

I don’t know how much storytelling and dialogue I will participate in this time around at Collegeville. I do plan to attend daily prayers at the abbey, but other than that I might be a lone glove of sorts, hanging out reading, writing, and reflecting. Oh, and taking pictures. 

So with that, I’ll sign out with these photos.

Missing Rainbow, and yet so grateful for this time at Collegeville. 

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