Oh the drama of it all

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I hope everyone has a chance to see these incredible puppets in action this coming Sunday! It has been a creative collaboration between Kathryn Kreider, Rosi Penner Kaufman, local hardware stores,  and many, many others! 

 

With our annual Rainbow Christmas program quickly approaching (December 16 at 5 pm), I thought I’d share these lovely reflections from Rehearsing Scripture by Anna Carter Florence. (I took the liberty to add a few of my own remarks in parenthesis.) 

“If you’re a child, and your grown-ups have anything to do with church, sooner or later someone is going to draft you into the Christmas pageant. It will probably happen multiple times over the years, because Christmas pageants have plenty of parts for every age group. The good news about this is that you’ll rarely play the same role twice (unless you’re a diva like Renee Reimer who always got to play Mary).

Eventually you’ll age out of the sheep and cows in the stable, and move up to shepherds or angels or wise men. You might even be Mary or Joseph, one year, if the pageant director thinks you won’t be embarrassed by it, and can sit still for that long (or if the pageant director isn’t your mother).

Even babies can be in the Christmas pageant in the starring role; they won’t remember it, but they’ll grow up hearing about it, knowing they had a turn in the spotlighted manger. Adults who have long since graduated from Christmas pageant eligibility will tell you, in an offhand way, that they were baby Jesus in 1954.

I don’t remember every Christmas pageant I was ever in, but I do remember some. Does anyone remember the year Riley Long took the baby Jesus out of the manger by his feet and held him upside down while the kids sang? As Rosi said, ‘Early juggling skills.’)

I remember having to stand with the barn animals, in fuzzy pajamas, and wishing I were old enough to be in the junior choir, so I could wear a red robe with a white cassock and sing with the heavenly host. I remember being thrilled the year I was chosen to play the angel Gabriel, who had real lines and got to sit behind the pulpit and make a grand entrance. I remember being startled and secretly pleased, as a thirteen-year-old, the year I was asked to be Mary—until I heard my younger brother was going to be Joseph.

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Here I am as Mary, with my brother Scott as Joseph in a rad 80s sports duo. I distinctly remember pretending the doll or “Jesus” was a football. And I’m pretty sure my brother is still experiencing trauma from the drama of it all. 

 

Back to Anna Carter Florence:

As an older teenager, I remember singing with the adult shepherds’ chorus the year our Christmas pageant was a production of Amahl and the Night Visitors. And as a parent, I remember the year I had to sneak up front to sit in the chancel with my younger song, who was most reluctant to join the other three-year-old angels in their tinsel crowns, singing Away in a Manger.

Christmas pageants are annual celebrations for the community, showcases for the education program, and a ton of work for the adults in charge—but they’re so much more than that. They are the first place, and perhaps the only place, where we’ll learn what it’s like to switch roles in our sacred story, and so experience its verbs from another point of view. A child who plays a donkey one year, carefully guiding Mary to the  manger and then nestling down in the straw to watch, will have very different verbs than the year she plays an angel in the balcony, bubbling with excitement and shouting to shepherds about good tidings of great joy. From her perspective in each role, what she hears, what she sees, and what she knows in her body will be different. Next year, maybe she’ll be a dove in the rafters. Or a shepherd in a field. Or a wise man from afar. Or an innkeeper with no more room. Eventually, she may play all those roles, each with its own set of verbs. And every one will show her something new about what it means for us that God came into the world as a tiny child to a poor family that was far from home, with nowhere to stay.”

Anna Carter Florence ends her chapter (p. 58) by encouraging us to tap into this Christmas pageant mode of being and doing whenever we read Scripture together.

“Switch roles in the text to try out new verbs. Be intentional about it. Begin with the characters that seem most natural to play, and then pick a new role. Audition for another part that goes against type. Try reading from the point of view of the prodigal son, then the older brother, then the father: what do you notice? Try standing with Pharaoh, then Pharaoh’s daughter, then Moses: What do you hear? Be a disciple and then a Pharisee, a leper and then a priest, a prophet and then the wayward people, a slave and then a landowner. There are so many parts to play in the text, with so many verbs, and each part is worth playing more than once.”

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Protected: A meditation to remember

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From Hanna

Hanna Hochstetler has written an open letter to the Rainbow congregation. In this letter she reflects on her sermon from October 21, whereby she addressed the difficult realities of sexual violence. Her sharing triggered an unexpected response from someone listening that day, which she describes in her letter below.

If you haven’t listened to her sermon from October 21, you can do so by clicking here: http://rainbowmennonite.org/media-presenter/hanna-hochstetler

From Hanna:

On Sunday October 21st, at Rainbow, I preached on the difficult realities of sexual violence, sexism and misogyny (Reclaiming Jesus document). Partway through my sharing, a man stood up and shared his experience of abuse. Up until this point, my attempts at discussing the pervasiveness of sexual violence in our communities focused on naming major events in our society that were highlighted by the media. Most of these examples involved female victims and male perpetrators. I also read a part of the Reclaiming Jesus statement that focuses on the need to recognize and respond appropriately to sexual violence. The language in that statement only identified women as victims of sexual violence. While it was not my intention to exclude the experiences of men or individuals who do not identify in the gender binary from the narrative, I had not yet voiced that there are survivors of all genders in our society.

The interaction between this man and I was difficult. I was not expecting anyone to speak up as I spoke, nor did I anticipate the response I would have to in that kind of situation. I felt an immediate sense of empathy for this man as he shared about his experiences from the past. I wanted this man to feel like he was heard and to validate his experience. In my attempts to do so, I responded to his sharing by saying, “Thank you for sharing. I’m sorry this happened to you.”

As I have reflected on that morning and my interaction with that man, in retrospect, there are multiple responses I wish I would have been able to share with him. I wanted him to know that I heard him; that I was so sorry that he had experienced abuse as a kid; that I had intentionally written into my sermon that we needed to acknowledge sexual violence affects people of all genders; and that I was sorry he felt as though his experience was not being heard or validated in that space. In addition to the love and sadness I felt as this man shared, I also found myself feeling vulnerable. It took a few long pauses, silence and some tears, but I was able to compose myself and carry on. There were some complex dynamics during our interaction that Sunday, but I believe that he did not intend to upset me while I was feeling vulnerable, just as I did not intend for him to feel as though his story was excluded from what I was sharing. I hope that others were able to recognize his pain instead of just focusing on the disruption he caused.

I also want to thank everyone who has reached out to me over the past month. I have felt tremendous support and care from many of you. I have had many meaningful conversations and hope that this letter can provide some context and thoughts to the rest of the congregation. ​I would like to share some of the key themes I spoke about that Sunday that I have applied to my interaction with this man, and our church’s response to that interaction.​​ Note: The normal print is text directly from my sermon, and the bold print is additional thoughts I have added.

● “We need to believe all survivors. While women are disproportionately affected by sexual violence, men too, as well as LGBTQ+ individuals, are also affected. Ignoring survivors’ voices or invalidating their experiences are examples of supportive attitudes and behaviors that encourage a rape supportive culture.” ​This includes believing men who come forward and speak their truths. There is no single story that encompasses the complex feelings survivors experience. While I tried to be inclusive in my language and intentional about what I shared, the impact of what I said elicited a response that was rooted in pain that needed to be heard and validated. ​​We need to recognize the impact that we have in either perpetuating this culture or resisting it by standing with survivors.”

● “As a society we are so quick to question or silence the voices of survivors rather than to show them empathy, compassion and support. As one body in Christ, we should affirm those who speak out against oppression.” ​I believe that the man who interrupted me during the sermon needed to speak his truth. Rather than making the interaction between him and I an “either/or” scenario where the congregation feels as though they have to choose between my well-being and his, I think we should consider the “both/and” scenario where the congregation can offer care and compassion to both of us.

● As someone who was part of the interaction, I have no way of understanding what each of you experienced as bystanders that morning. I do not know what experiences you brought with you prior to our interactions or what emotions you felt in that space. I want to acknowledge that each of your responses to the interaction, as well as my sharing as a whole, are valid. Thank you for being in that sacred space and for bearing witness to the impact sexual violence has on individuals. Engaging in conversations such as these are difficult, but I believe they are the first step in creating an equitable and safe community.

So just as I ended that Sunday, I invite each of us to continue to “disrupt the norm, stand with survivors and support each other in our efforts.” It is a constant effort to understand the complexities of these issues but taking the time to listen and reflect allows us to gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the resilience of survivors.

 

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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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