You may or may not have noticed these yellow ribbons near Rainbow.

They started appearing over a year ago, after a three year old named Olivia died.

You can read about it here and here. Warning: Child Abuse

Olivia’s death, and the ongoing trial associated with her death, has led to an outpouring of love and demands for justice for Olivia. There is an Olivia memorial on Steele Road that is impressive in size and scope, and absolutely heartbreaking.

Why so much yellow?

Olivia, or “liv” as she is often called, loved the color yellow.

I spent a morning recently at this memorial.

And I was left rather speechless, so I’ll let the images and this community lament do the talking.

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Holy week triggers

Every year during Holy Week I try and find ways (not always successfully) of issuing a trigger warning. That’s because the Biblical stories of Jesus’ arrest and trial includes horrific and brutal scenes–unspeakable torture and terror. Those of us haunted by the realities of violence, in varying ways and to varying degrees, are often especially triggered by these scenes.  “Tread carefully,” I tell myself (and other clergy) year after year. 

Holy Week trigger warnings seem especially important this year when many of us have the murder trial of Derek Chauvin on our minds. (Let’s please not call it the murder trial of George Floyd–as if Floyd is the one on trial). The trial is both terrible and important to witness, especially as a white person. (People of color in this country experience and witness these terrible, threatening, life-ending realities more often than any white person can even imagine, and so watching this trial may be too traumatizing for people of color.)  The sounds, the shouts, the sirens, the panicked 9-1-1 calls of that terrible day, coupled with the scenes of the courtroom–the testimonies, the defense, newly released body cam footage, and the anticipation and aftermath of a verdict–it’s a lot to think about for Christians any week, but perhaps especially Holy Week.

So along with issuing this trigger notice, I want to issue this word of hope: This Holy week I hope and pray that those of us who identify as Christians will learn better ways of existing in spaces of trauma. And I hope anyone who attends a Good Friday service will not be subjected to the glorification of suffering, but instead will be brought into a grace that meets us in all of our sufferings, helping us to rise. May God’s unending love meet us all, whatever this week brings. 

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For those of us traveling through the gospel of Luke this Lenten season, let’s take a brief look at Luke 13:31-35:

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Can’t you hear the foreshadowing? Luke, the literary genius, begins to cast an ominous pall over the story. There are references to death, three days (think Good Friday to Easter), and we are introduced to what will become our age-old Palm Sunday liturgy.

Jesus is beginning to feel the stress and weight (see Luke 12 :50). Division, violence, and abandonment are on the horizon. And it didn’t have to be this way, Jesus says. “How often have I desired to gather you as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13: 34).

The weight of what Jesus is up against, the foxes out to get him–these things are clearly crushing in mind and spirit. He is watched closely and some of his onlookers become indignant by what they see Jesus do and say (Luke 13:14).

And yet Jesus continues to rise above (does this count as a pun?). He keeps people on their toes, often telling stories or parables packed full of whimsy, challenge, grace, instruction, and truth.

And so, as we consider the heaviness of the evolving story, let’s also not overlook the whimsy in chapters 14-15. And in that spirit, I’ll share these (somewhat dated) very short pair-of-bells recordings.

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Getting cross-examined and cross in Luke 11

For those reading through the entirety of the gospel of Luke during Lent, here are some thoughts on chapter 11.

After Jesus leaves the home of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42), he begins (or continues) to get tested, cross-examined, and criticized, especially by some in the crowds. In turn, I sense Jesus getting a little testy, cross, and critical!

Even when a woman in the crowd raises her voice and says to Jesus with affirmation, “Blessed is the womb that bore you,” Jesus has a rather sharp response: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:27-28)

It seems to me the rest of chapter 11, perhaps even the rest of Jesus’ teachings in Luke, hinges on that statement: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

And all I can say about verse 37 onward is WOAH!

There is a lot of woe talk. Woe to Pharisees, woe to lawyers, woe to anyone everyone who is clean on the outside, but greedy and wicked on the inside. To anyone and everyone who neglects justice and the love of God (11:42), Jesus says, “Woe to you!”

The added detail in 11:44 is rather chilling: ”Woe to you! For you [the religious leaders—Pharisees] are like “unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.” Equally chilling is what Jesus says to the lawyers v. 46 onward: “Woe to you! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them…For you have taken away the key of knowledge…”

So yeah, is it any wonder that the scribes and Pharisees grew “very hostile” toward Jesus (Luke 11:53)?

Is it any wonder they ramped up their cross-examination of him? Chapter 11 ends with more chilling words: They waited for Jesus, “to catch him in something he might say.”

Of course what I catch Jesus saying most clearly is this: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” And my, how we still like to maneuver around Jesus’ harsh criticism of greed, pride, and injustice. We probably find ourselves cross-examining Jesus more than we care to admit.

Later this week I’ll post some thoughts on Luke chapter 12.

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Luke 10: 25-37 and doing more than compassion by proxy

Dr. King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech

Delivered April 3, 1968, Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters) Memphis, Tennessee.
Dr. King cites Jesus’s “Parable of the Good Samaritan”

In addition to the reflections I shared in this week’s worship video, I now share some excerpts from a sermon preached by Matt Westbrook at Portland Mennonite Church in 2015.

When MLK gave the speech (linked above), it was April 3rd of 1968 and he was in Memphis, Tennessee standing with the city sanitation workers, who had been viciously treated by the city for years with unsafe conditions, discrimination, poor treatment from the white city government leadership, and the recent deaths of two sanitation workers. King chose not to show compassion by proxy, but instead to show mercy–compassion moving the body to action–by standing with the workers in marches and rallies. He made the choice to ignore his fears, emanating from continual treats on his life, and to stand with the suffering sanitation workers as they lay on the side of the road. The day after he delivered this speech, King was killed by an assassin. Compassion in action, mercy, is risky. You know you have loved your neighbors when you both feel the uncomfortableness it generates when you act in the place of the Good Samaritan, and also when you feel the uncomfortableness it generates when you recognize the enemy of yours represented by the Good Samaritan may be quite capable of being a role model in a story by Jesus.

A few other excerpts worth chewing on:

Western, wealthy, yet good-intentioned Christians, removed even from having to travel on Jericho-like roads, tend to prefer to keep their hands clean by personally sending or having their governments send money or pass laws, understanding these actions as creating permanent and lasting positive change. Once the money is given, the conscience is eased because it equates neighborliness with the click of a computer key, the tending of wounds with the wearing of a button, the costly generosity of standing and touching the person in need with the donation to a political campaign.

To be fair, this description doesn’t describe every act of financial generosity or political action–there are certainly exceptions right here in our church. But I believe it does hit a powerful nerve in Western liberal Christian practice. To be even-handed, I could have easily described the approach of a conservative American Christian, who may have seen the wounded man by the roadside and argued that if only the man was armed, he could have properly defended himself, but that sermon is for another day.

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I’m embarrassed to say that I’m already failing in Lent. I have excuses and justifications, but I won’t bore you, the reader, with the details. Nor will I ask for your opinion on whether or not my excuses are justified or weak! Likely the latter.

So, I hope to get back on track with some Biblical reflections next week. For now, please enjoy this little video of children describing Lent. Some real gems here!

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Ashes to ashes we all fall down

We all know some version of the rhyme right?

A pocket full of posies,
Ashes, ashes!
We all fall down.

And we’ve all heard the theory that this rhyme is really depicting death and ruin right?

Well, given our current pandemic, I doubt if anyone wants to think about the 1665 outbreak of bubonic and pneumonic plague, which some believe this rhyme references. Likewise, I can’t help but wonder if anyone is going to show up to our Zoom Ash Wednesday gathering that starts in less than 20 minutes! Who wants to think about our blessed mortality right now?

And yet, I’ll be there, contemplating the the dust or ash that we all become and the opportunities we have to make our ash/dust count.

So everyone, I have to say it: Get your ash at church!

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A Hard 40

I’ve started referring to the season of Lent as the Hard40. It a 40 day sentence (may feel like 40 years to some) of traveling with Jesus as he turns toward Jerusalem and faces the ensuing trial, brutality, trauma, and death penalty. It’s a hard road to travel before we get to Easter. But it’s a road we best not take a detour around, no matter how much we’d like to.

And so, starting on Ash Wednesday, I will post daily thoughts or photos on this site.

I will use this daily Bible reading schedule as the primary compass or jumping off point.

And to kick it off, here is a video for your consideration.

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Snow walks

Lately I’ve been doing more video recording than writing and more walking than talking (or typing). So I’ll let my recent snowy walk through Whitmore Playground speak for itself.

You can find more videos on our Rainbow YouTube channel:

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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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