Sail on…

On November 4 (All Saints’ Sunday),  we will gather in the Rainbow Remembrance Garden around 11:45 am in order to place an engraved brick in honor of Frank Ward, long-time Rainbow pastor.  It’s a beautiful time to be in the garden, and placing bricks is a beautiful way of remembering our very own “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).

Last time we were in the Remembrance Garden, someone asked me about this sculpture (pictured above). This led me to do some research, and lo and behold, I found this lovely piece of writing by Leo Goertz.

“Plants change and grow. A sculpture is a fixed physical presence but it too changes, by the brightness of the sun, by shadow, by being wet or covered with snow. I enjoy Arlie Regier’s sculpture as an abstract art piece, created from found and modified found materials. If one enjoys art more with an accompanying narrative, the obvious narrative is that it could represent a sail boat. This, in turn, implies motion or time. In a setting of a memorial garden this could represent ashes to ashes, birth to death, or more broadly, setting or attaining goals. Its direction, pointing to the church might even suggest the church as a haven. The sculpture might also be the object of exploration, and with that as transition, we move to exploration.”

So there you have it. We may be the stewards of the only KS garden with a sail boat sculpture in the middle of it. I’m ok with that because I love this image of the church being a haven for all of us out on the choppy, sometimes chaotic seas of life. May this sailboat help us remember those who sailed before us, who pointed the way for us. And may we who are still living, sail on, building the kind of church that truly provides a haven for all who seek it.

 

 

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Our shared work

IMG_2754In preparation for Frank Ward’s funeral service this coming Saturday, I’ve been looking through church archives. (Frank was Rainbow’s pastor  1975-1998.) I was pleased to find two statements shared at two different times of pastoral transition at Rainbow. Neither of them were read/prepared with Frank in mind. Still, they seem worthy of our reflection and consideration today as we give thanks not only for Frank’s leadership, but for the many leaders and congregational members who have and continue to exercise their gifts–limitations and all. I am so very grateful to be part of this shared work, in this time and place.

Statement #1 read by Leo Goertz at the installation of Kenn Rupp.

In large measure the congregation has been and will be speaking for itself in this order of worship which was planned for congregational involvement and for reaffirmation of the purpose of the church. We began with praising God for the joy of human love. We trusted God to raise us to a new quality of life as he raised Jesus from the dead. And we declared that we may share in a common life; a life shared with God and his Son Jesus Christ. As part of this shared life we are free, for the Lord will take our burdens. Being free we can have kindled in us love’s compassion so that everyone may see in our fellowship the promise of the new humanity. Certainly this is idealistic and perhaps we can’t reach this goal very often. But this is what we keep saying being a Christian is all about. So, in a tradition that has stressed the priesthood of all believers it is fitting that the charge of leadership be given to all.

In a special way, though, we call to our work a special leader who is our pastor.

Each of us might have some different activity or goal that relates to our own needs and that is one of the joys and difficulties of being a minister. These differences also make my listing incomplete. But in broad outlines, these are some of the things we ask:

We want you to be as sensitive to God and to people so you can so you can sharpen our consciences.

We’d like you to preach a gospel which is the good news and to educate us to appreciate the good news when we hear it.

Would you see religious education in long-term perspectives and help us discard tradition if need be and make religious education a real discipline if need be?

We want you to be able to accept our limitations and your limitations and to help all of us to live in a world where being limited need not mean being ineffective or in despair.

We wish you to develop your own talents and pursue your own interests so that you may become more human and so that you may excite us to develop our own talents.

We want you to be an administrator by intent and not by default because the skillful working toward worthwhile goals is a part of the good news.

Statement #2 read by Leo Goertz on the occasion of Gary Schrag’s ordination 51 years ago on October 8, 1967

While we were without a pastor we met. We met and questioned each other. We asked, “What do we want in a pastor?” “What do we expect of each member?”

We made up our pastor’s job description. We hoped he would be our teacher. We said he should be able to preach. We wished he could help us witness to our neighbors. Our list grew long. We shortened our list. We laughingly said even St. Paul couldn’t please us. But what did we say we would do when a new pastor came?

We agreed he’d be made of the same clay we were made. We said we’d avoid the temptation of making him our agent. We hoped we would be less complacent and not let the preacher do it all. We said we’d try harder to make our faith relevant. But we found it hard to program a relevant faith. Someone wondered if our difficulty was due to having so little faith. Another asked if we’d really tried prayer. We said, in one way or another, we were not all the same and the same program would not fit all. We agreed we needed a pastor’s help. We said we would try again.

What did we say about money? We said we were stewards of money as of time and of talents. We said we expected a minister to have a salary which permitted him to live in a manner similar to most of his people. We were a bit concerned about the fact that we never quite met our budget. We never actually said to ourselves, “We will commit ‘x’ time and ‘x’ dollars.” We probably didn’t talk about money as much as Jesus did.

What did we say about God? We said we wanted to know as much about God as reason and study could teach us. We said we were willing to seek and try new ways of worshipping God. We said we wanted to search out God’s workings in our lives. We asked if we should remain a congregation or disband. We thought God told us he still had work for us as this congregation.

What then do we commit? We have brought to this service our doubts and our failures, our dreams and our deeds, our promise and performance. We have brought love for our pastor and family, also love for each other. We have trust that our God has continuing work for us here in this city. These things we commit. We must do no other.

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Second-hand racism

Imagine volunteering at a second-hand store, sorting through donation bins. One day you find a marionette of a Mexican man in a sombrero or a board game called “Challenge the Chief,” with Indian caricatures on the box.

What do you do?

Or let’s say you’re like me, a frequent shopper at second-hand stores, and you come across a racially offensive depiction of a black man as a criminal, or—we’ve all seen this one—an African-American woman as someone’s cheerful domestic servant.

Even today, thrift stores routinely receive donations of knick-knacks, posters, and other items that were once popular but now are seen as embarrassing or repugnant. Worse, many are donated after being purchased from second-hand shops in the past.

Does the reselling of these objects perpetuate negative stereotypes that lie behind so much of the systematic racism today? If so, who decides which items should be taken out of circulation?

A few years ago, a local thrift store manager came to the Kauffman Museum in North Newton, KS, with these very questions. The result was a traveling educational exhibit using racially offensive objects, found in actual resale shops and at estate sales, showing the persistence of stereotypes and their relation to racism in American society.

I am honored that this exhibit, “Sorting Out Race,” is now set up at Rainbow and open to the public.

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Here it is, all set up in Rainbow’s Fellowship Hall!

The exhibit entrance is designed to resemble the front door and display window of a typical second hand store.  All who enter are cautioned: “This exhibition explores controversial themes and displays racially offensive images with the goal of stimulating a healthy community conversation about our ongoing struggles with race.”

Inside guests will find themselves in a colorful thrift store with a variety of objects—antique advertising cards, vintage children’s books, collectibles—each one projecting an offensive stereotype of someone who does not look like the shopper. Miniatures of a “savage warrior” and a “sleeping Mexican.” Knick-knacks featuring beloved advertising characters Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben. Team souvenirs featuring racially insensitive sports mascots and costuming. Walking through this carefully curated store of jaw-dropping kitsch, I had to remind myself that all of these disturbing images were commercially acceptable once (and perhaps in some areas, still are).

Now more than ever, we need to have honest conversations about the impact of the past on our values and priorities today. Our hope and prayer for “Sorting Out Race” is that visitors will use this nostalgic, if unsettling, stroll down retail’s Memory Lane to review their own historical inventories of racialized mementos and cultural memories.

“Sorting Out Race: Examining Racial Identity and Stereotypes in Thrift Store Donations” will be on display at the church from now until October 11. Free, with financial donations accepted. Groups welcome.

 

Click here for more information: Sorting Out Race
And special thanks to our underwriters who made it possible for us to host this exhibit at Rainbow,  including Hoa Kim Vo’s memorial fund and Cross-Lines Community Outreach. If you haven’t shopped at Cross-Lines Thrift store, be sure to check it out: Cross-Lines Thrift
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A seedy business

I interrupt this regularly scheduled program for this important story about watermelons.

“I feel like the Queen of the Winter Prom,” wrote my mother-in-law Diana, “or the drum majorette, or at least Vanna White. If nothing good ever happens to me again, this will have been enough.” 

What on earth, I wondered, has provoked my mother-in-law to begin an email like this? The answer: Crimson Sweet watermelons and a (now deceased) man named Dr. Charles V Hall. 

Anyone who knows Diana and her son (my husband) Jesse, knows that watermelons are a frequent topic of discussion. They grew and sold watermelons as a family, with all profits going toward my husband’s college education, for which I’m eternally grateful. 

When Diana was just 15 years old, she remembers paying a “fortune” to buy just a few seeds of the new-at-the-time watermelon variety called Crimson Sweet. These succeeded (or just seeded) beyond her wildest dreams. They were, in her words, “sweet as honey, with tiny, tiny seeds, a uniform size of 25 pounds, high production, block round, much easier to pick than all the older varieties.”

This is where Dr. Charles V Hall comes into the picture. He’s the one at Kansas State University who worked a decade to cross three different varieties to develop his Crimson Sweet melon. “I wanted a melon that was wilt resistant, and I like its general appearance (a striped, refrigerator sized melton) and its sweetness,” Hall said.

 

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Charles V Hall holding his famous Crimson Sweet watermelon

So naturally in 1971, when Diana was a student at KSU in need of a summer job, she wanted to work for Dr. Hall breeding watermelons. She got the job, after much persistence. Here is her description of that memorable summer.

It was the year that Dr. Hall released the Allsweet watermelon variety— a long-striped  melon with even higher sugar content than the Crimson Sweet. We had a long process of fermentation and what-not when we collected seeds and dried them. The day we had all of them ready, Dr. Hall put them in a leather bag. He had all of the people present, and some other professors had come out. And he told us that we were holding all of the seeds that would go forth and dominate the whole commercial and gardening varieties in America in a few years time. It was a holy moment. The hairs on my forearms stood straight up.

The story doesn’t end there.

Once out of college and as far back as the late 1980’s, when the Graber family was “famously in the watermelon business,” Diana began to notice that the Crimson Sweet variety had kind of deteriorated, including wide variations in size and in rind thickness, and the color was not as bright green in the stripes. So who you gonna call? Why Dr. Hall of course!

Here is the story, again in Diana’s words:

In 1971 I learned that every 4 or 5 years, Dr. Hall would take some of the original Crimson Sweets seeds from cold storage, grow a big patch of them, and send them out to the growers so that their product line would be more like the original. So I wanted to see if I could get some of the purer seeds to plant in my little patch next summer.  I wrote a general shout-out to the Horticulture  department at KSU, and got an email with Dr. Hall’s contact information…The minute he said hello, I knew it was his voice.I started by telling him my whole history and life in the watermelon business, and the summer of 1971. And then he said he remembered me, and I had the best fertility rate of anyone that summer, better than the Doctoral students, and that’s true, I did. He confirmed that he would release new seeds to the growers every 4 to 5 years. But he also said that project remained the property of K-State, and they did not continue that release program. I had at least hoped that he could tell me which growers were getting the new seeds. So my hopes were dashed.

Then, he said, ‘But I had some of those seeds in cold storage, and a few years ago I had a guy I know, my doctor, raise a bunch of those in isolation, and got half of those seeds, put them back into storage. I’d be glad to give you some of those if you send me an addressed envelope.’  Wow. Wow. Wow.

We talked about the old varieties and he asked what my experiences with them had been, and I got to say, over and over again, ‘Dr. Hall, the Crimson Sweets came along and just revolutionized the whole market’, and he would titter.

I told Dr. Hall that when I spot an Allsweet out in the stores or farmers’ markets, I pat one on the head and say, ‘I knew your Grandmother.’ And he laughed like crazy, and said, ‘oh, that’s great.’

You can read more about Dr. Hall here: https://www.areawidenews.com/story/1991972.html

And lucky for us, we have a watermelon seed to plant next summer!

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Racial response ability

Recently I attended a preaching workshop led by Carolyn Helsel called “Anxious to Preach about Racism: Guidance for White Pastors.” Among her many helpful comments, she said that her goal as a white preacher was to increase her racial response ability. This is different than taking responsibility for racism writ large. Instead, it is about becoming more attune to the ways she has been racially shaped as a white person, and how she in turn, racially shapes the world around her.

Following this workshop, I have felt renewed in this work of responding to and identifying how my own whiteness informs so much of what I do and say.  The work is ongoing and much needed. And it’s work we will embark on together as a church this coming September as we prepare for ongoing church-wide conversations on how we might grow our ability to consider, confront and change the white supremacy of our everyday lives. Click here to learn more and register for this symposium September 28-30: http://rainbowmennonite.org/symposium/

Please also consider reading this reflection below by Joshua Chittum.

The nature of our national conversation on race, assuming we can call it a true conversation, often reaches a layer of angst well before we are deep enough to uncover any truths, partial or whole. The pulsating truism of what has occurred throughout our nation’s history and what we now witness, a teaspoon of racial progress, followed by a cupful of fear driven, White backlash, remains a source of anxiety, resistant to enlightened analysis.

Some of that anxiety is rooted in the natural human uneasiness to change and uncertainty, not unique to a particular race. But this alone is not sufficient to explain it all. The peculiarity of anxiety is that while it is designed to keep us alive, it can also distort reality. There are instances when it actually makes the world look far more dangerous than it is. And when thought leaders and elected politicians manipulate this distortion with skill, responses from the dominant masses grow less and less removed from the full potential of our sacred humanity.

It is then that complexities are ignored. Determination to confront our hardest challenges grows weak. Blaming and fearing the other, the outsider, and the least among us seals the cognitive loop that must remain open if we are to explore deeper. But, with regret, deeper truths are not a universal motivator. Simplistic truths allow for sleep to come sooner.

Thus, we have White brothers and sisters delusionally equating legal, cultural, and political progress for those historically denied access to power with denial of access for Whites. Thus, we have large numbers of White people seeing themselves as among the most discriminated groups in America. And we have torches lifted beneath the stars in the sky with declarations that “we” will not be replaced.

Lest we throw our stones of judgment at those rightly deemed as lost, foolish, and dangerous, those of us who consider ourselves racially progressive, and more specifically White and progressive, have our own struggle with distorted worries as well.

There are concerns regarding how to discuss the issue or if we even should. There are concerns that redressing the harms of yesterday and today will impact our hearts and minds in ways too painful for us to cope. There are suspicions that discussion of race is designed only to make us, as White people, feel beat up and guilty. There is disbelief or even defensiveness at the notion that racism is not only something that happens to others via the hands of others, but that all White people, no matter ideology, are central actors in the story. And, while this is far from an exhaustive list, there is the ubiquitous panic and helplessness in determining what, if anything, can be done to make it all better.

If we want to create a tomorrow that is more human than today, it is not enough to finger point and shout at the backward and so-called redneck. We must also heed the challenge that is growing in mind and spirit ourselves. This requires an ongoing process of discovering who we have been, who we are, and who will become as individuals, as a community, and as a nation.

It is a process convoluted, electric and raw.  But without intentional disruption, our worries are likely to grow larger. Our avoidance of tough truths stronger. The broader hurt of yesterday and today all the less likely to heal.

*****

I am not able to provide words that fully dissolve or resolve the range of emotional responses to the topic of White supremacy and its related concepts. But I do feel compelled to offer a response to the concerns of our moment. A moment, once again, directly tied to the centuries long conditions and structures of a race conscious society, first built on the legal idea and then perpetuated by the stubbornness of the human heart, that some of us are more human than others.

I offer a hand not as a sage, but as a fellow explorer. As one with a unique combination of experiences and perspectives that include a decades long diagnosis of chronic anxiety and more than a decade of formally and informally studying the wounds caused by me and my people.

Per the former, I not only know what it feels like to be afraid, I know what it feels like to think fear will never end. For the latter, yes, there have been moments of discomfort in the midst of discovery. But I learned early in the process that I have never been and never will be in any true danger. White Supremacy is a topic I am able to walk away from and never think about again if I so choose. But when I do engage, I receive with consistency more grace and guidance from friends as well as strangers.

Just as I practice with my own personal anxieties, when we have a more realistic view of the task before us, rather than seeing shadows as monsters, we can begin accepting reality. That acceptance leads to assuming responsibility. In the context of White Supremacy, this means setting aside our ego, guilt, and worry when confronting the truth of our Nation’s Original Sin and its lingering hurt.

My hope is that the strategies I have used and continue using in order to maneuver through my own anxious mind can be utilized in this process. And that those who want to engage, but are held back by concern and doubt, have a few extra tools in their pocket to accompany them in the journey. Tools that are simple to hold, but difficult to use.

The first of these is the tool of radical love.

Now, discussing love for White selves is controversial among some. I am conflicted about it myself. Because one truth is that love for Whiteness can grow too large and become a disdain for anyone deemed not white. Another truth is that we can end up coddling each other and ourselves, or even expecting our emotional safety to trump the emotional and physical safety of others.

These are truths with which I agree. But there is another truth I cannot avoid. And that is the reality that we will not make progress with shrinking circles of good people amid expanding circles of bad people. If anxiety is distorting the message in the audience’s ears and all they hear is that anti-racism or White supremacy are vague concepts meant to make white people feel bad, guilty, shameful, or if anxiety distorts the danger people see themselves in and they think they are losing access to goods and services they have enjoyed their entire life, and they think the White race is threatened, and they think equality equals oppression, we have a problem. We have a major problem.

A recalibration is needed. It is akin to my own mental adjustments when I begin feeling shame and regret at my propensity for worry. Shame and regret does nothing to calm an overactive mind.  Instead, it is when I love myself and give myself grace, when I treat myself with the tenderness I treat a friend in a difficult time, that I am able to ride the waves of worry. I am able to see this rise and fall of water as a natural part of the human condition, even if my waves are more exaggerated than others.

A similar re-calibration is needed in the White community. And that recalibration hinges on radical love. It is the love that James Baldwin identified when he wrote:

“White people…have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this — which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never — the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.”

And:

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of  grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”

I receive both quotes as challenges and encouragements. I want to prove Baldwin wrong. I want to show him, that as White people, we are capable. That we can dare to grow. Yes, we are broken and imperfect. Yes, we may grow uncertain about the operation of our moral compass. But as Will Campbell, the White southern minister and a grassroots leader in the Civil Rights movement, once said, “We’re all bastards. God loves us anyway.”

If God loves us, we can love ourselves too.

*****

The second tool of value I have found in countering the distortion of worry is vision and creativity. When I want to curl up and crawl into a corner, afraid of the dangers of the world, I talk to myself about the life I want to live. I imagine a life not bound to an ever shrinking radius of safety. I imagine seeking new sights and new smells. New experiences and new relationships.

One of my frustrations attempting to organize tangible institutional change in response to our insidious White supremacy, a frustration I admit I could handle much better, is the sense that far too often we become stuck in the minutiae. Too myopic to see the entire forest. Too afraid to imagine and explore. Clinging to a smaller and smaller corner of supposed safety. Waiting for someone to provide the answers. To tell us exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to start.

As best I can tell we do not have a complex plan which gives society as a whole, step by step instructions on how to repent and be forgiven and rebuild after the past. Or rebuild after the present. This fact itself can create more anxiety. It is easy to grow apathetic and see no point in trying.

But in addition to love as antidote to worry, vision is needed to motivate us and give us a destination to work toward. In order for this to occur, we have to think bigger than perhaps we have ever thought before. Then multiply our scale by ten. And then by another ten.

When I think of examples of this kind of large scale thinking, one that is prominent in my mind is the imaginative marine biologists in the late 1970’s that discovered hydrothermal vents deep on the ocean floor. Despite the harsh conditions of 700 hundred degree water, immense water pressure and no sunlight, new lifeforms were found. New species of tube worms, fish, shrimp, and more.

When these scientists engaged in that process of discovery, they could not bog themselves down with arguments over what name to give to their subterranean exploration vehicle. They could not indefinitely delay the project because they had philosophical disagreements over the nature of water. They had to tackle each challenge as best they could and  move to the next one.

In many ways we are like those scientists. Trying to discover new life. A new tomorrow. A new idea of what Whiteness is. Or could be. Or should be.

We are trying to make a new nation. Trying to do our part to heal wounds from the last 400 years. All in the hope that the next 400 years will not be the same. Yes, there are things we have to get as precise as possible or the endeavor will not succeed. Yes, there can be and should be pressure on our shoulders. Lives are at stake. Livelihoods are at stake. Our nation’s health is at stake. Peace is at stake.

But how blessed and fortunate are we to do be able to do something.

And with each act of doing, of pushing the rock before us, the hope is – my faith proclaims that –  we grow closer to God’s ideal. It is not an ideal we will realize in our lifetime. But this need not diminish our efforts. We are here now and we are a link between the past and the future. And so we work. Because we are obliged.

*****

The upcoming church symposium (September 28-30) is the next effort before us. Not a culminating event. But a continuation to take us further. As we confront and change White Supremacy not just in the lives of our White brothers and sisters waving Rebel flags, but in our own lives, and in our own community, things may grow messy or tense at times. We may have a hard time understanding each other because of the different language we use. We will have disagreements about tangible actions to take. Some of us will get stuck. Some of us will set out on our own, too fast for anyone else to keep up.

It is my request that during this process we refrain from allowing our anxiety to dictate the course. Because if we do, chances increase that our distortions of reality will lead to maladaptive behaviors. Where we will spend most of time finger pointing and blaming. Where we will we compete about which of us,  as White individuals, has hands that are the cleanest. Where an atmosphere of rigid group think, snufs out creative and original thought. Where we bemoan how others do not understand, never bothering to explain things differently so that they can.

I am guilty of committing all of these transgressions above. I do so when I am not in a place of balance. When I allow my ego to become more important than healing. When I allow anxiety to edge out my need to face who I have been and who I am. And with the bitter taste of worry in my mouth, there is little capacity to love all of myself, broken and beautiful, and envision who it is I have not yet become.

Together in community, may we find the radical love and necessary imagination needed to disrupt our individual and collective distorted worry. May we envision who we, as a faith community and pluralistic society have yet to become. And then may we engage in the gritty work of pushing a rock toward God’s ideal of a more human tomorrow. One in which words of equality are not aspirational, but descriptive of reality.

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Little reflections on the prairie

I decided to do some field research this week. Literally. I did sermon and Bible research (Ephesians 4:1-16) while sitting in a Flint Hills field. In the process, I reflected on this prairie piece written by my dad, Keith Harder.

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A prairie reflection by Keith Harder

The Flint Hills prairie has always been an important landscape for me. But returning to central Kansas in 1985 from a more hemmed-in environment, fostered a deeper appreciation.

I have come to appreciate how little it has changed over thousands of years. Where the prairie has remained untilled, it is probably much like it was since the recession of the great inland sea. Human inhabitants are very recent.

The prairie is sustained by its deep roots. There is much more activity below the surface than above it. Left to its own resources and devices, the prairie endures.

Prairie plant life is a perfect match for its habitat. Dozens of native types of grass and flowering plants seem to get along and make space for each other without any one species dominating or taking over. They seem to care for and feed each other.

As I have become more appreciative of the prairie I have found myself more interested in the names of my new found friends and so deepen my relationship with them. So to identify some of the grasses—Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indian Grass, Switch Grass and a few of the flowers seems like a small gesture of dignity and respect. Walking on the prairie and identifying its inhabitants by name feels like an act of friendship. The understated beauty of the prairie is invisible from the road at seventy miles per hour.

With the advent of humans, the original invasive species, other invasives now threaten the natural balance of the prairie. Hedge trees, cedar trees, musk thistle, sericea lespedeza threaten to reduce its natural bio-diversity. Should we try to control the invasives? Have there been other invasives in times past that were eventually tamed and brought into the prairie community?

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Is it hubris to want to take care of the prairie, to preserve it? It did fine for thousands of years without us humans. But now that we have introduced our roads and fences and towers and turbines and oil wells and over-grazing and invasives, what is our responsibility?

The open horizon of the prairie landscape unimpeded by trees, mountains or tall buildings still nurtures new ideas and possibilities.

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To be continued on Sunday, especially the part about musk thistles….

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Away and in danger

Thank you, Rosi Penner Kaufman, for this reflection as we approach World Refugee Day, June 20, 2018. 

This past Sunday during our time of praying together we sang these words from a hymn by John Bell and Graham Maule:

If the war goes on and the children die of hunger,

And the old men weep, for the young men are no more,

And the women learn how to dance without a partner,

Who will keep the score?

If the war goes on and the truth is taken hostage,

And new terrors lead to the need to euphemize;

When the calls for peace are declared unpatriotic,

Who’ll expose the lies?

After the service, an astute friend asked, “Which war?”

What a question. My sad reply is, “Choose one.”

In the past few weeks I have become aware of the war that is happening near us, on our borders,  between those seeking shelter and safety in the United States with their families and the U.S. government policies that justify border agents ordered to detain them. I read stories of thousands of children, some as young as four years old, forcibly separated from their parents and held in detention centers.

Next Wednesday, June 20, 2018, is World Refugee Day. I admit, refugee is a word distant from my personal experience. My grandfather might have been considered a refugee when he fled Poland to avoid military conscription. I’m sure there were hardships involved, but in 1890 there was never a question of whether he would be admitted to the U.S. He wasn’t alone, and he had family and a destination waiting for him.

The refugees today are CHILDREN. IN OUR COUNTRY. ALONE.

I hardly know how to express my lament. As is often the case for me, I look to music, trying to find something that we can sing together to gather our resolve to do something about this injustice. This is one of those times when I may have found something too powerful to venture singing in a worship service. Corporate worship has to take into account the experience of a wide range of people, including children. I was introduced to a text that, while it touches the lament of my soul, might be unsettling, especially for kids. The text is paired with the tune common for “Away in a manger.” The pairing of this text that describes fear, loneliness and the blatant disregard for life, with a tune we sing as a lullaby or hear our preschoolers sing at a Christmas program, is a powerful condemnation of how sheltered I am from the reality of this text. It is frightening.

Frightened refugee children don’t sing carols. They weep. And now I weep with them, frustrated that I don’t know how to bring about the hope of the third stanza.

*Double click on this song to make it larger.

 

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