Sometimes tangled, always interconnected

I know a pastor who calls herself a “web walker.” She sees all of life as this infinite web of invisible threads and energies. Her calling, as she sees it, is to tend to a particular and yet important part of this massive web (a congregation), watching for web tangles and blocked energy—places where resources or people aren’t reaching their full potential. In her role as Web Walker in Chief, she hopes to encourage healthy connections and networks between diverse peoples and resources so that the congregational and therefore communal web remains strong, vibrant, and durable. Sometimes this means calling people out on behavior that is harming the larger network. Sometimes it means stepping back and appreciating the sheer beauty of this web, giving thanks for the benevolent energy, which many name as God, pulsing through this infinite web.

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While I’m inspired by this image of a pastor being a web walker, I don’t see myself standing outside this web as some kind of neutral observer. I am just as much part of this web as the next person. I’m just as prone as everyone else to get tangled and twisted when it comes to relating to and working alongside people of diverse backgrounds and identities. As hard as it is to admit, I can just as easily be the one who blocks potential in others or who fails to see and utilize resources. I don’t always possess an attitude of gratitude, taking time to appreciate the beauty all around us and inherent in each person.

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These are thoughts that came to mind recently as I watched church and community members work together on an outdoor interactive, public art activity known as the Unity Project. A massive web-like structure was set up on our church property using poles and yarn.

People of all ages were encouraged to claim who they felt they were in this web of life, by weaving yarn around the poles or identifiers that best described them. People had a chance to express something about their political and religious affiliations as well as other interests and preferences and life circumstances. (e.g. I am a parent, I have a disability, I believe (or don’t) believe in a higher power.)

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It was beautiful to watch church and community members weaving past each other, claiming who they were in what appeared to be a judgement-free space. So often who we affiliate with or how we self-identify can unite us with some, but separate us from others. And yet during this particular activity, one sees that while we remain different, while we orientate around different “poles,” we are still part of one infinite web of creation.

As my 10-year old niece walked with a bundle of yarn in hand, she announced that she felt lost and she didn’t know where to go. I wanted to tell her that I too felt lost a lot of times, not knowing where to go, how to identify, and who or what to affiliate with. Life, I wanted to tell her, can feel like a tangled mess at times and figuring out how best to treat ourselves and others in this mess is difficult to be sure.

When we finished and stepped back, she put her arm around me and said, “It’s pretty. Maybe I’ll do this in my bedroom.” I think that’s a great idea, I told her. What if we all had some visual reminder before we went to sleep of this tangled, beautiful web that is life? What if we imagined ourselves as thriving, vibrant threads in this infinite web, and what if we imagined working to give others, especially those different than us, that same potential? And finally, what if we imagined God as the benevolent energy holding all threads together, giving all of us more potential and resources than we could ever ask or imagine?

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Place. People. Play.

The place we call Whitmore Playground will be buzzing with people playing on Saturday night, June 3. There will be live music, free food, and activities for all ages. Join us if you can!
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Here are some frequently asked questions about this event:

What time should we arrive and what can we expect to do, see, hear, and eat when we arrive?  
The event is slated to begin at 5 pm and continue until 8 pm. A free, catered meal will be provided by Two guys and a grill. Live music will be provided by The Good Hearts as well as The Rosedale Jazz Quintet, of which Rainbow trumpeter Aaron Linscheid is a member.

Art activities will include chalk painting, outdoor water color easels, and colored rock patterns. Movement activities will feature walking a temporary labyrinth and an interactive public art project called Unity.  See this video for more information.

Why are we calling it a Jubilee?
Jubilee is a word that can mean celebration or freedom. In Biblical terms it can refer to a cancellation of debt and/or redistribution of land. So why not call this a Jubilee as the common ground we call Whitmore Playground turns 40 years old in June?

Jubilee is also the name of a colorful and energetic children’s book by Tim Ladwig which is a story set in a park. We tried to get Tim here for the celebration, but his work schedule didn’t allow for it. Fortunately Tim sent us this image in case we would ever be inspired to paint this as a mural in the playground.

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How much is this costing? Who is paying for all the food, live music, and activities?
This is a free event! Earlier this year we received a Vital Worship Grant from Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They provided us “play money” as we spent the year exploring our outdoor spaces in new, hopefully worshipful ways.

Again, we hope you can join us. And bring your friends and neighbors! We’ll have enough food for at least 500 people, or so I am told.

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If I were a butterfly

Today I walked out to the newly installed butterfly garden in Whitmore Playground.  I didn’t see any butterflies, but I saw the promise of butterflies to come.

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This butterfly garden was planted in honor of Bernita Boyts.

According to friend and long-time playground committee member Judy Selzer, while Bernita was still living she had talked about wanting a butterfly garden in the playground. Then, when memorial money was given in her name for the Whitmore playground this seemed like the natural thing to use it for. Judy writes, “Bernita always loved nature. The beauty and elegance of a butterfly reminded us of her.”

The three large rocks in the butterfly garden were provided by Bernita several years ago.

I only met Bernita in person a couple of times before she died and yet, people still talk about Bernita in the present tense. For example, here are some beautiful reflections about Bernita, butterflies, and nature.

From Wanda Lowenstein: “My experience with Bernita involved an ongoing questioning of the status quo—always seeking to understand and grow.  It’s my sense that nature provided an opportunity  for her to let go of the questioning and just enjoy the beauty and wonder of the transformative power of nature.”
From Anne Brady Bloos: “…When I first met Bernita it was in her backyard garden, which she had shaped and tended for years. I was a fledgling gardener, full of questions, and she was generous in sharing what she had learned. Here was someone who was clearly alive to beauty! Her garden was filled with colorful blooms and twisting vines. It was buzzing with pollinators — exuberant and full of life. The design and plant choices reflected her passion; she was not bound by any gardening rulebook. She had a creative, experimental approach, letting nature and beauty be her guides. The words “down-to-Earth” come to mind when I think of Bernita — the phrase describes her humor and her approach to gardening.  I would hope a garden in her name would reflect the qualities Bernita brought to the endeavor: her creativity, love of beauty, respect for nature, and desire to share all of this with others. Ideally, Bernita‘s Butterfly Garden will give a variety of butterflies sustenance and shelter to complete their brief sojourn here. It will offer its human visitors an opportunity to notice the singular and intricate beauty of flowers and butterflies — one small example of the abundant gifts the earth offers us every day.”
Judy Selzer: “Bernita would say ‘take off your shoes and walk in the grass with me. It helps to ground you.’

To Judy and Wendell, Wanda, Anne, Annie, June, and many others who have contributed to this garden, I say thank you. May this be a lasting tribute to Bernita whose life lives on in the stories we tell and in the care we offer creatures both large and small, those whose feet walk the earth and those whose wings carry them to the skies.

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Bernita and Hal Boyts of Hesston KS

PS: Have you noticed the folded paper butterflies hanging around the sanctuary? There are 10 in all. See if you can find them this coming Sunday!

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Art in/as Sacred Space

Today I wish to give a special shout out to those who have worked so diligently on the Art in Our Sacred Spaces book that catalogs our current art collection at Rainbow.

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We will celebrate and dedicate this book and project this coming Sunday, April 30 at 4 pm. So if you want to learn more about the art at Rainbow (both indoors and outdoors), join us! A powerpoint presentation of this tour will also be shown in Fellowship Hall for those who choose to stay in one place for this “walking tour.”

What follows is the introduction that I wrote for this book.

I spend a lot of time contemplating the beauty of the spoken and written word. And yet it is often while walking around our church building and grounds that I feel an extra sense of awe and wonder. That’s the gift of beautiful images—they often draw us to God, the source of all beauty, in ways the written and spoken word falls short.

That being said, Mennonites have at times been squeamish about visual arts in sacred space. Some have taken the Biblical prohibition against making graven images to mean that visual images are at best a distraction for Christians. Mennonite artist Bob Regier offers this helpful historical perspective on this subject of art in sacred space:

“There is a rich symbol tradition in the Christian church, reaching back to the early church and coming into full flower in the Gothic and Renaissance periods of the 12th through the 15th centuries. The Protestant Reformation interrupted this flowering. The reaction to the excesses, the opulence, and the misuse of power within the church swept away the rich visual traditions of painting and sculpture that were so completely integrated into the architecture and liturgy of the church. Indeed, there were excesses that needed abandonment or correction. But in retrospect we now see that this might have been another example of throwing out the baby with the bath water. In our own Mennonite tradition, especially, the primacy of the spoken word and healthy suspicion of embellishment swept aside any visual elaboration within our worship spaces. The visual symbol was suspect. While the visual arts in the church all but disappeared, with a few notable exceptions such as Jan Lluyken’s illustrations for The Martyr’s Mirror, music remained as a powerful non-verbal medium of expression. Slowly, the power of color, shape, texture, and line has returned to take its place alongside music and the spoken word. We are no longer afraid to allow all of our senses to be engaged in the worship experience.”

This is certainly true at Rainbow, a place that is alive with art of all kinds!

And so whether you join us on Sunday or not, here is an art-full prayer for us to consider written by John Johansen-Berg.

Divine Creator, your works delight us with sight, scent, and sound, bringing sensations of joy to all living creatures. We ask your blessing on all those whose creativity gives a reflection of your handiwork in the universe. Give inspiration to those whose use of paint and texture harmonizes colors and shapes with subtle interpretation; may they bring an extra dimension into the minds of those who view their art with pleasure.
We give thanks for those who work and mould the clay,
chisel and shape the stone and iron, carve and smooth the wood,
to make exquisite sculptures
which delight the heart and mind.
Heavenly Artist,
bless the painters, sculptors
whose creative gifts are a source of blessing for others.
Sneed Commitment to Community

Illustration near east staircase by Brad Sneed called “Commitment To Community”

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Easter shenanigans

As a young girl I remember overhearing a church visitor say that you can always spot a pastor in a room because they the ones who don’t look like are having any fun. I probably remember this so well because my dad happened to be the not-having-fun-pastor this visitor was talking about. Now I’m the pastor who is well aware of the occupational hazard of taking myself, my work, and life too seriously. Perhaps that is why I sometimes ask worship leaders to bring a joke to share with me before worship begins. My favorite one so far is this: “Ruth, how do priests make holy water?” Answer: “They boil the hell out of it.”

In a growing number of Christian churches, the Sunday after Easter is a time to tell jokes in church and play practical jokes on the pastor, probably because in general, pastors could probably lighten up a bit. Maybe we could all lighten up a bit at times. And what better time to do that than the Sunday after Easter, after God played the most epic joke of all on death?
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Therefore this coming Sunday we at Rainbow will be joining the ranks of Christians who will observe Holy Humor Sunday, or Laughter Sunday, or Holy Hilarity Sunday. The witty Mike Horner will bring the teaching called “Grocery Gospel,” there will be a time of sharing bulletin bloopers, and the organ will be joined by the kazoo (or the other way around). Meanwhile, the pastor will be out of town this weekend creating some of her own post-Easter shenanigans—details of which you will never know.

As we prepare for Sunday, consider these affirmations of humor compiled by Rev. Chris Anderson:

A Communion of Saints
Affirmation of Humor

Ecclesiastes:
“there is a time to weep and a time to laugh.”

Chrysostom:
“laughter has been implanted in our souls.”

Aquinas: There is a time for
“playful deeds and jokes.”

Luther:
“You have as much laughter as you have faith.”

Calvin:
“we are nowhere forbidden to laugh.”

Francis De Sales:
“humor is a foundation for reconciliation.”

Wesley:
“A sour religion is the devil’s religion.”

Kierkegaard:
“Humor is intrinsic to Christianity.”

Dostoevsky:
“If a person laughs well they are a good person.”

Chesterton:
“A good joke is the closest thing we have to divine revelation.”

Bonhoeffer:
“Ultimate seriousness is not without a dose of humor.”

Fulton Sheen:
“The only time laughter is wicked is when it is turned against he who gave it.”

Flannery O’Conner:
“Christianity is a strangely cheery religion.”

Elton Trueblood:
“Never trust a theologian without a sense of humor.”

Charles Schultz:
“Humor is proof that everything is going to be alright with God nevertheless.”

Krister Stendhal:
“humor, along with irony, forms a safeguard against idolatry.”

Eric Gritsch:
“Humor is thus anchored in a self-knowledge that indicates one’s limitations.”

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Towel and basin

Then Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

-John 13:5

Foot washing can be a peculiar and awkward ritual to reenact in modern times, especially since most of us in this country don’t travel by foot in sandals through deserts, mountain sides, and along seashores like Jesus and his followers did. When we want people to look at or pay attention to our feet, most of us (if we can afford it) pay a podiatrist or massage therapist.

I had all but given up on 21st century foot washing rituals when I found myself volunteering a week at the Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia. Every so often, local medical students in the fields of acupuncture and podiatry would come to the shelter and offer free pedicures and massages to the homeless gathered on Ponce Ave. It was both painful and beautiful to watch these young , aspiring medical students hold in their hands the feet of homeless people as they treated ingrown nails, blisters, bunions and all manner of foot problems.  The stench, the bloody toes, the hollers, the chaos, the long line, the tears, and words of thank you felt like a living gospel moment. It was by far one of the most  poignant modern-day  “foot washing” ceremonies that I’ve ever participated in.

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The Open Door Community, as sad as it makes me, is no longer providing hospitality and foot care to the homeless people of Atlanta. In their letter announcing this decision, the founders of Open Door said this about their decision:

“When we moved into the old home on Ponce de Leon, the neighborhood was a place where many poor people — both housed and homeless — lived. We served food and hospitality to folks from personal care homes and from the streets. For many years we provided 10-12,000 meals each month, serving seven days a week. We provided showers and clean clothes for hundreds. We added two free medical clinics and a foot clinic. But now the neighborhood has changed drastically as a result of concerted public policy, escalating property values and police work geared to “moving the homeless on.” The personal care homes for the mentally ill are now offices and single family dwellings; the railroad tracks where many homeless folks camped have been transformed into the Beltline. The men seeking work at the “catch out corner” have, in large part, been moved out by police and security guards. Our area is fully gentrified and it has become an inhospitable space for the homeless poor. We serve meals to fewer people, and even our holiday meals that typically served 500, now serve only 300 or so. We anticipate that shortly there will be very few of the homeless poor in this area of the city.”

The people I met at Open Door will certainly be on my mind as I prepare the basin full of water for our foot washing ritual tonight at Rainbow. So will the many people in our world who lack clean water and a place to lay their head. Refugees the world over walk and walk and walk, with no home in sight and those of us with more resources so often think we can “move the homeless/refugee on.” But where do they go? Who will stoop to wash their feet?

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Tonight we will begin our foot washing ritual by singing a hymn called “Here to the house of God we come” with text by Shirley Erena Murray. The music setting, by Colin Alexander Gibson, is named after a Cambodian refugee camp KHAO I DANG. Whether people participate in this ritual or not (it’s optional), I hope the symbols of towel and basin will be an opportunity to consider again the cries of the human family, and how we might yet share lodging with free hand, “space in our living, in our land.”

Here to the house of God we come,
 home of the people of the Way,
 here to give thanks for all we have,
 naming our needs for every day,
 we who have roof and rent and bread,
sure of a place to rest our head.

There is a knocking at our door,
 sound of the homeless of the world,
voice of the frightened refugee,
 cry of the children in the cold,
asking the least that is their right,
 safety and shelter for the night.

God who is shelter, who is home,
 in borrowed rooms you came to live,
 pleaded to save the dispossessed,
 crucified, lay in borrowed grave:
 these are no strangers in your eyes,
 this is your family which cries.

We are all tenants of your love;
 gather us round a common fire,
 warm us in company with Christ, 
give us the heart to feel, to share
 table and lodging with free hand,
 space in our living, in our land.

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A church that composts together re-members together

It was all about compost this morning at Rainbow. Special thanks to Sallie Page-Goertz and Madeline Bollinger for composting our prayer bowl prayers this morning as the children watched intently.

And special thanks to Kimberly Hunter and Bob Campbell for their beautiful Lenten reflections on compost and on being rooted and grounded.

Reflection by Kimberly: April.2_Rainbow_Matthew.Compost

Reflection by Bob: Volunteers

Finally, I want to thank everyone who has donated their “waste” to make our Rainbow compost pile the beautiful masterpiece that it is! As Kimberly and Bob urged us, let’s keep learning together about humus, humility, humor, and what it means to be human made in the image of God. And let’s watch and wait for God through nature to teach us about resilience, resurrection, and re-membering.

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